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Country Report Germany, Austria, Switzerland  Title:
 Summary and conclusions


Country Report The Netherlands


Hans Buitelaar, Universiteit van Tilburg, TILT 


The discussion about the desirability of one identifying number has been a persistent phenomenon in the Netherlands. This discussion has long been pervaded with the experience of World War II, when many citizens were easily traceable due to the perfect registration of citizens at the local level. As a result, deportation actions for the Arbeitseinsatz but also in the context of the Holocaust, have long haunted the Dutch.


The introduction of the single personal ID number started already with the distribution of the social security number some decades ago. But this was still an application with a strictly limited value, i.e., it only had validity in the social and fiscal sectors (= sofinumber). Other personal numbers were the so-called A-number, that was used in the local civic administration and other sectoral numbers, such as the Education number.


In the early nineties of the past century, two lines of development gradually become apparent as important for the way government ensures identification of its citizens. As will be shown they eventually in conjunction determine the outcome of the discussion about the identification number in the Netherlands. These are the technological developments and a different approach to the services public government provide.  


Initially, on the technological side, a stream of legislation can be witnessed, that fortifies the control central government gets over its citizens. Especially the opportunities introduced to make use by the law-enforcement services of telecommunication tracings and DNA evidence, become increasingly important. Then, after about 1996, on the public administration theory line, elements of the movement of New Public Management also took hold in The Netherlands. This can be described as the electronic government with an external orientation (economic aspects, service and democracy). The Dutch government became convinced, that ICT would provide a valuable contribution to realising the plans for its e-government vision. It was the intention that, in the future, all dealings of government with its citizens would take place via the Internet. In this context, government thought it necessary to simplify its contacts by providing the citizens with a uniquely registered means of identification. A supra-sectoral number became necessary. Even though the sofi-number was to an ever greater extent taking on the appearance of this single identifying number, it was deemed necessary to introduce a real citizen service number, the BurgerServiceNummer (BSN). Additional reason for this introduction, were the faults, that increasingly became apparent in the system of the sofi-number.


Then, of course, there were the attacks on the Twin Towers of September 11th 2001 and the resulting terrorist threat. Contrary to what is usually assumed, it was not this shocking event, that created a climate in which the introduction of a single identification number was acceptable to the Dutch people and government. ‘Nine eleven’ only provided an extra impulse for the trend by which government increasingly started to control its citizens.


First, in 2002, a broad discussion took place about the personal identification number. Upshot of this discussion was the advice to introduce a single identifying number. In the climate sketched in the above paragraphs, the Dutch population no longer objected to this instrument. It was argued moreover, that the single number was necessary as a prerequisite in the development of the Dutch e-government plans. Because of the priority, that safety enabling measures after ‘nine eleven’ are given, the original plans in the Van Thijn recommendations, to create equal safeguards at national and sectoral level for the personal number, it soon appeared, here also were set aside in favour of technology push. Most revealing in this discussion was, that the so-called unique Healthcare number is, by a last-minute legislative move, replaced by the BSN number. The two strands of technological development and e-government vision seem to lead inevitably to the single personal number.


There was also criticism. Some outspoken spokesmen accused the Dutch government of gullibility by believing in “the panacea of digital identification”. It seems almost, they argue, as if every technique, that helps with law-enforcement and safety, is permissible. One becomes more and more convinced, that linking up all infrastructural systems will be facilitated by the use of a personal identification number. At a later stage, it is relevant to mention here, that the Data Protection Commission and  the First Chamber of Parliament criticised this point of view. If a mistake is made somewhere in the chain of systems using the BSN, the citizen does not know where to make his grievance known and it will take much pain to correct it. In such a way, it is maintained, the longstanding tradition of using personal data solely in the context for which they are collected, is disrupted. The principle of self-determination by the citizen in the process of updating and selection of data collected and used about his person, is also damaged.


On September 12th 2006 the General Provisions Citizen Service Number Act was passed by the Second Chamber. Points of departure for the BSN are:

  1. Only the BSN may be used in the contacts between government and citizen in case a personal identification number is necessary 

  2. Every citizen who has multiple contacts with the government is issued a BSN. 

The BSN is meant to assist the national government in realising its goal of an improved service to its subjects and to make the administration more efficient. It is meant to reduce the administrative burden the government imposes on citizens by supporting the principle of single request for information. Purportedly it also would contribute to the protection of the privacy of its citizens and the fight against identity fraud.


The primary register for BSN is the Local Government Basic Registration (GBA).  

The responsibility for the GBA lies with the local governments. Data such as name, address, gender, civil status, nationality and residence permit but also data about parents and offspring are retained. The agency Basic Administration  Personal Data and Travel Documents maintains a central index, which is nationally available for reference by authorised organisations. For non-citizens a Register Non Residents (RNI) will be developed. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will hold responsibility for RNI.


As a matter of fact, the BSN is the same as the sofi-number. For the migration of the sofi-number to the BSN the government has chosen to transfer the sofinumber automatically to the BSN by renaming the sofinumber. Just like the sofinumber the BSN consists of nine digits and fits the so-called elevencheck. 


To ensure the safe use by government organisations of the BSN, the following conditions are set out:

  1. The number has no informational value 

  2. An operational organisation takes care of the security and correct granting, storage and consulting of the number. 

  3. There will be a numberregister. 

  4. Local government authorities are responsible for the correct issuing of the number. To obtain a BSN one has to identify oneself with his/her passport.  

  5. In backoffice applications where a personal number is used only the BSN may be used. 

  6. The functioning of the BSN must be transparant. For that reason the government intends to realise the National Trust Function. This is a set of measures that ensure that the BSN is used properly. In this context the government intends to set up a so-called map by which citizens obtain insight into the use of the BSN. A complaints bureau, a data protection officer and a framework for checking the admissibility of the use of the BSN are also foreseen. 

Unfortunately the present situation is that the last mentioned conditions are not progressing at the same pace as the basic conditions for use. The Data Protection Commission argues that this is a matter of serious concern because the additional risks of a general personal number require more safeguards than provided by the Data Protection Law.


In spite of the fact that the bill for the BSN had not as yet passed the First Chamber of Parliament, the number appears since January 1st 2006 on all Dutch official documents such as passports and studentcards. Government organisations use the BSN via a private secure network. It is expected that the area, in which the BSN may be used, will be broadened to all organisations, carrying out a public duty, such as the Internal Revenue. Numbers used in sectors, such as the judicial chain, will probably use their own number. Citizens can use the BSN for applying for various local services such as building permits. It is still uncertain whether private organisations will be granted access even though especially the banking world has shown much interest.




CBP 2007 

Brief van het College bescherming persoonsgegevens aan de Leden van de Eerste Kamer, number z2007-00082, January 11th 2007 concerning Reactie op memorie van antwoord Wabb (EK, 2006-2007, 30312, D). 



CDJC 1990 

European Committee on legal cooperation (CDCJ), The introduction and use of Personal Identification Numbers: The Data Protection Issues, Council of Europe, July 1990, Add. III to CDJC (90). 


Burgerservicenummer Introductie, Factsheet. Den Haag, Programmabureau Burgerservicenummer, 2006.


F. Kuitenbrouwer. Het recht om met rust gelaten te worden. Over privacy. Amsterdam, Balans, 1991. 

MOM 2007 

P. Mom, Invoer Burger Service Nummer minacht privacy, Overheid Innovatief nr 1/2007. 

PRINS 2003 

J.E.J. Prins, Het Burger Service Nummer en de strijd tegen Identiteitsfraude, Computerrecht (1). 

TAFEL 2002 

Advies van de Tafel ‘Persoonsnummerbeleid in het kader van identiteitsmanagement’, juni 2002. 


  1. Vedder, Niets meer te verbergen en toch bang, 911 en de privacy van de doorsnee burger, Filosofie en praktijk, jrg 27 – nr 5, p. 49. 


Voorstel van Wet algemene bepalingen burgerservicenummer (Wabbn), Kamerstuk nummer 30312. 


Voorstel van wet Wabbn, Eerste Kamer 30312. 


Country Report Germany, Austria, Switzerland  fidis-wp13-del13_3_number_policies_final.sxw  Summary and conclusions
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