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Universal ID numbers in three Visegrad countries  Title:
COUNTRY REPORT GERMANY, AUSTRIA, SWITZERLAND
 Country Report The Netherlands

 

Country Report Germany, Austria, Switzerland

 

Sebastian Meissner, ICPP 

 

Introduction

This country report deals with important state-issued ID numbers that currently exist in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and with the policies that are pursued in this context by the respective country. It is described in which sectors and for which purposes the different numbers are used, of which elements they consist and on what legal basis they are used. Furthermore, current and forthcoming changes concerning ID numbers and the corresponding policies are presented. 

 

Germany

Overview

Today in Germany only sector specific ID numbers are used. One important reason for this is the Census Decision (Volkszählungsurteil) of the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). This decision was of utmost importance for the development of data protection law in Germany. In the Census Decision the Federal Constitutional Court ruled among others that the introduction of a universal personal identifier is forbidden by German constitutional law. The decision is based on the consideration that such a universal personal identifier would allow an easy combination of different data sets and thus a comprehensive registration and indexing as well as the creation of detailed personal profiles about citizens.

At present one can identify some forthcoming changes with the potential to soften or even abolish the rigid sector specific approach for ID numbers in Germany: The most important ones are the introduction of a unique and inalterable lifelong tax number in 2007 and plans for the introduction of a central citizens register. 

 

Registration System and Tax ID Number

Today the registration of citizens in Germany is organised in a decentralised manner. In most of the German federal states (Bundesländer) numeric sort features are used to run the registers. These sort features differ from state to state. Furthermore, they are not unique i.e. identical sort features can be found in indexes of different states and therefore be allocated to different citizens.  

In 2006 there was a reform of the federal organisation of the German state (Föderalismusreform). One result of this reform was that the legislative competence for the citizen registration law was moved to the federal legislative organs. Recently plans of the German Federal Government emerged to set up a central database containing the registration data of all citizens. In this central database there could and probably will be stored a universal ID number. In this context first and foremost the forthcoming tax ID number comes into consideration to be stored in the new central database. The introduction of this number is going to happen in the second half of 2007.

The tax ID is a unique and inalterable identifier for natural persons. It is allocated to each taxpayer and used for unambiguous identification in taxation procedures. The Federal Central Tax Office stores the tax ID number and some other data about the taxable person such as name, date and place of birth, gender and current address in a central database. The additional data are provided by the local registration authorities; in return the Central Tax Office transmits the allocated tax ID numbers to the registration authorities which store the numbers in the local registration databases.

The Tax ID Number is composed of eleven numeric characters (example: 12345654321) that must not be built or derived from other data about the taxable person (non-descriptive number). The last digit of the number is an error checking number.

Legal basis for the introduction of the Tax ID Number is Article 139a ff. of the German Tax Code (Abgabenordnung – AO). Article 139b AO contains provisions that shall prevent the use of the tax ID number as a universal personal identifier in commerce and administration: In particular public or private organisations may only organise their data by means of the tax ID number if this is necessary for regular data transmission between them and the tax authorities. Private organisations that infringe these regulations commit an administrative offence that may be punished by a fine up to 10.000 €.

 

Summary and Conclusions

As already mentioned in the introduction, in Germany sector specific ID numbers for citizens are used so far, but at the moment one can recognize important forthcoming changes: Starting in July 2007 universal and unalterable tax identification numbers will be allocated to all  

citizens. These ID numbers will be already assigned to newborns, they will be lifelong valid and they will be stored in a central database. This database will contain other personal data such as name and address of the citizens as well. It will be kept up to date by data  

transmissions from the local citizen’s registration authorities. Furthermore, the German Federal Government plans to centralise the system of citizen’s registration. This could be carried out e.g. by adding a central registration index containing data about all German  

citizens to today’s local registration databases. 

 

If one examines the above-mentioned developments as a whole, one can identify a distinct tendency towards a central storage of data about the citizens and – most probably – also towards the implementation of a universal personal identifier. In particular, the already determined linkage of the forthcoming tax identity number to resident registration data from local indexes leads to the conclusion that the tax ID most likely will be stored in a future central registration database and that it might be extended to a universal ID number for the whole public administration.  

The current development in Germany seems to be quite problematic from a legal point of view if one considers the jurisdiction of the German Federal Constitutional Court that illegalises the implementation of a universal personal identifier. 

 

Austria

Overview

Concerning identification numbers Austria follows another approach than Germany. In order to achieve a synergetic effect the register data of citizens was verified parallel to the census of 2001. The corrected data was then used for a central registration index (Zentrales Melderegister - ZMR) which was implemented in Austria. In this registration index personal data about the citizens such as name and date of birth are stored as well as a registration index number – the so-called ZMR number (Melderegisterzahl - ZMR-Zahl). The ZMR number is allocated to guarantee the unambiguousness of each citizen. Nonetheless, due to data protection reasons the Austrian legislation decided not to use this number for authentication in E-Government applications. Instead different sector specific personal identifiers based on the regulation in the E-Government Act 2004 are used.  

 

Resident Registration Number

The central registration index was introduced in March 2002. At the same time the amended Austrian Resident Registration Act (Meldegesetz 1991 – MeldeG) became effective. The ZMR is operated in parallel to the local registration indexes. It is a joint information system that stores data about every Austrian citizen. A single record contains personal data such as name, gender, date and place of birth as well as residence data like postal code, city, street and house number. 

In order to guarantee the unambiguousness of every citizen also a ZMR number is stored in every citizen’s record. The ZMR number consists of twelve numeric components (example: 1234567654321) and must not contain any personal information about the concerned citizen.

Legal basis for the allocation of the ZMR number is Article 16 Paragraph 4 of the Austrian Resident Registration Act. 

As already mentioned the purpose of the ZMR number is to guarantee the unambiguousness of every citizen. Hence, it is used as a source for identification and authentication of citizens in the e-government context. However, due to data protection reasons not the ZMR number itself but so-called sector specific personal identifiers (ssPIs) are used in e-government applications (concept “Bürgerkarte” – see details at 3.5).  

 

Social Insurance Number

In Austria a universal social insurance number is allocated to every insured person. This number is stored on the chip of the new electronic patient card (e-card) that was introduced in 2005. The social insurance numbers of all citizens are stored in a central database. They are used by the social security authorities (health, pension and accident insurance funds) and the (local) employment offices.

The universal social insurance number is a descriptive number that consists of ten numeric characters (example: 1234030869). It is allocated by the umbrella association of the Austrian social security authorities (Hauptverband der österreichischen Sozialversicherungsträger).  

Legal basis for the allocation of the number is Article 31 Paragraph 4 of the Austrian General Social Insurance Act (Allgemeines Sozialversicherungsgesetz - ASVG). The social insurance number may be used for purposes of social insurance and labour market services.

 

Citizen Card (“Bürgerkarte”)

The citizen card concept offers to the citizens a technology independent solution for a privacy-friendly e-government. The so-called “Bürgerkarte” isn’t a card in a physical sense but a bundle of functions that can be implemented on different carrier media such as smart cards (e.g. the e-card), cell phones or USB sticks. In order to guarantee a secure identification and authentication electronic signatures are used. The legal basis to implement the concept citizen card was provided by the E-Government Act 2004 (E-Government-Gesetz - EGovG).

Within the implementation of the concept not only the ZMR number, but also other ID numbers play an important role: The source PIN that is calculated from the ZMR number and different sector specific personal identifiers (ssPIs) that are derived from the source PIN by one-way-hashing them with sector numbers defined by law. 

The aim of the deployment of different sector specific personal identifiers is to prevent the usage of one single ID number (e.g. the ZMR number or the social insurance number) as a universal personal identifier. ssPIs are deployed as well in the public as the private sector. 

 

Summary and Conclusions

In Austria ID numbers are used that have the potential to be extended to a universal personal identifier (e. g. the ZMR number and the social insurance number).  

With the E-Government Act 2004 and the concept “Bürgerkarte” the Austrian legislator decided using an approach that offers an unambiguous identification and authentication but uses different sector specific personal identifiers instead of one universal personal identifier. This solution bases upon the awareness of the legislator that the use of digital identities implies severe privacy risks such as possibilities to link digital data via one digital ID number.  

 

Switzerland

 

Overview

In Switzerland the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Fund number (Alters- und Hinterlassenenversicherungsnummer – AHV number) is the most important public ID number. In 2006 the Swiss legislator enacted changes to the respective law (Bundesgesetz über die Alters- und Hinterlassenenversicherung – AHVG). The new regulations are the legal basis for the introduction of a new AHV number: Starting in July 2008 the new AHV numbers will be issued to the citizens. One aim of the new regulations is to reduce the extensive usage of the current AHV number.  

 

Social Insurance Number

In Switzerland a universal social insurance number, the so-called AHV number, is used. The Old Age and Survivors Insurance Fund (AHV) is the mandatory social insurance pension fund in Switzerland. The unique AHV numbers are allocated to every insured person by the Central Equalisation Board (Zentrale Ausgleichsstelle). A new AHV number will replace the currently used number in 2008. 

Today’s AHV number is a descriptive number that consists of eleven digits (example: 66869334113). So far the use of this number wasn’t limited by law. Over the years this resulted in an extensive use of the number by different authorities and organisations. In addition today’s number proved to be insufficient to guarantee the unambiguousness of every allocated person in the future.

Hence, the Swiss legislation changed the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Act (AHVG) in June 2006 setting up the legal framework for a new AHV number. Starting in 2008 the Central Equalisation Board will allocate new numbers to all people that are registered in the central insurants index. The new number will be issued to all insured persons and to the respective employers. 

The new AHV number is a non-speaking number that consists of thirteen digits (example: 7561234567895). Legal basis for the introduction of the number is the new Article 50 c-g AHVG. 

The new legal provisions allow the use of the new AHV number for social insurance purposes as well at federal as at cantonal level. However, in some areas of the social security system additional legal provisions for the usage of the number will have to be issued. Outside of the social security system the AHV number may only be used if this is explicitly allowed by federal or cantonal law. Authorised users have to take technical and organisational measures to guarantee the lawful use of the right AHV number and to protect the number against improper use. Users who neglect this obligation are fined with an amount up to 10.000 francs (approximately 6.170 €). Unauthorised people who systematically use the number are punished by imprisonment up to six months or fined with an amount up to 30.000 francs (approximately 18.500€).

 

Summary and Conclusions

The AHV number is the most important public ID number in Switzerland. As the currently used numbers the forthcoming new AHV numbers will be used in many different administrative sectors. Hence, the AHV number can be characterised as a universal personal identifier. 

To prevent an uncontrollable use of the number the new AHVG-provisions require the issuance of specific legal provisions ruling the usage of the number for every additional purpose. People who systematically use the number without being legitimated are punished with severe penalties. Moreover, authorised users are obliged to take technical and organisational measures that guarantee protection of the number against improper use.  

 

Findings: Comparison of ID number policies

Analysing the findings it can be surmised, that the three countries discussed in this chapter, follow different approaches dealing with public ID numbers: 

In Germany at the moment only sector specific ID numbers are used. However, analysing current developments one can observe a trend towards using the forthcoming Tax ID number as a universal personal identifier in different public sectors. 

In Switzerland such a universal personal identifier has already been established: It is today’s extensively used AHV number that will be replaced by a new number in 2008. The new AHV number is set up to prevent the extending use of today’s AHV number via the issuance of specific laws ruling the usage and via sanctions in cases of improper use. The disadvantage of this solution is that the AHV number may be used as a universal personal identifier never the less. This enables as a matter of fact the linkage of transactions and thus creation of detailed profiles about the respective person. 

The Austrian legislation in 2004 issued the E-Government Act that prescribes the use of sector specific personal identifiers instead of one universal identifier. The so-called “Bürgerkarte” concept aims at preventing the development of a universal identifier in the e-government context and therefore works against the creation of detailed profiles about Austrian citizens. 

 

 

Universal ID numbers in three Visegrad countries  fidis-wp13-del13_3_number_policies_final.sxw  Country Report The Netherlands
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