Belgium trials electronic ID cards for 10m citizens

24 Apr 2003

The largest government deployment of Java Card technology is taking place this month in Belgium with the envisaged rollout of more than 10 million electronic identity cards (EIDs) to every citizen over 12 years of age.

The EID project sees the Belgian government taking a leading position in the world for e-government and electronic ID for citizens, and also the largest government deployment of Java Card technology in Europe.

Last week marked the start of the pilot phase, with tens of thousands of cards being distributed amongst the inhabitants of 11 cities throughout Belgium as part of a pilot scheme. In the event of positive results, the Belgian government expects to distribute over 10 million electronic ID cards to citizens over the age of 12.

The credit card-sized cards will deliver the same official functions as the traditional ID card – name, photo, date of birth – only it will also be equipped with several security elements and an advanced Java-enabled chip.

“The new national ID card, based on Java Card technology, is a cornerstone in Belgium’s e-government initiative,” says Jan Deprest, president of Fedict, the Federal Belgian ICT [information and communications technology] department. “It will allow Belgian citizens to authenticate themselves in an easy and completely secure electronic way whenever they access e-government applications. The EID project may also allow future private applications to be accessed via the card, such as payment systems or reservation for cultural events. They will furthermore be able to put their own electronic signature to digital documents such as declarations or application forms, which will have the same value and legal status as the documents that are nowadays signed by hand.”

Elie Simon, vice-president of EMEA for Sun Microsystems, said: “The Belgian government is setting a new standard in ID cards. Java Card technology allows services and applications to be dynamically modified as the user’s needs change, without incurring additional costs of replacing cards or distributing additional means of access. This solution will allow the Belgian people a level of mobility with security not possible previously, as well as allowing the Belgian government to adapt to future needs in the years to come.”

Despite growing calls for a national ID card scheme in the face of a growing crime epidemic and under-age drinking, Ireland has yet to implement a meaningful national ID card policy, despite claims by the Government that it is at the forefront of e-government initiatives throughout the world.

By John Kennedy