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Executive Summary  Title:




As becomes apparent in this deliverable much discussion takes place about the desirability of a single identification number in the context of eGovernment development. This is a matter of a fundamental nature. It goes without saying that personal identification forms an important part of the foundation of our society. It allows us to create a link between people, actions and responsibilities. In many ways it is one of the lubricants which allow society to function. Whereas in the past, physical means of identification predominated, we are now on the eve of an era where digital equivalents of these forms of identification will take over. Without these measures, fighting crime will be obstructed, ambitions in the field of e-government will be frustrated, companies and citizens will lack faith in e-commerce, to name but a few things that could go wrong. Careful attention to the design of the system of digital identification is essential. The question is to assess whether there is sufficient consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of the use of an identification number, without which, a digital identification system cannot function.


Generally speaking it may be argued that it is exactly the will of giving the image of an actor seeking to introduce trustworthy measures at all levels that allow (governmental) organisations to develop innovative ICT systems. These innovations make it possible for commercial organisations to increasingly rely on sophisticated technologies with which to improve their customer services but also to increase their own profits. Governmental organisations can apply these innovations in new areas such as the measures to combat terrorism or improve the health care system. Once the client or citizen trusts an organisation to correctly use personal data, the necessity decreases for expensive measures like PETs etc.. This calls for careful attention to find an appropriate balance between the introduction of new technologies for which the personal identification number is an important element and, building up and securing the citizen’s trust in the measures governments actually carry out to ensure their right to informational privacy.


As the argument goes, an identification number is in itself a meaningless number. Who would object to a meaningless number? However, a number is of course never meaningless because it is always assigned to a person with a view to identifying them for a specific purpose. Governments introduce ID numbers to facilitate back-office functions and to exchange information about citizens to enable them to provide services to citizens. The danger, alluded to in many publications, is, that, because the ID number is so important, it also becomes more attractive to malicious individuals to get hold of this number in order to use it for criminal purposes. Identity theft and identity fraud assume ever larger proportions  in the EU as in other parts of the world. In that way the increasing use of identity numbers by government can be said to backfire on the issuer, the government. If this development continues, faith in eGovernment and e-commerce will be undermined. Instead of helping government to fight crime, government has a new crime issue at hand. It seems reasonable to assume that governments will take timely and well-considered measures to prevent this scenario from happening.


ID numbers are used throughout the public sector. These numbers originated in distinct areas of the public sector. Examples are taxation, public health, law-enforcement, local administrations and social services. In the light of attempts to streamline government operations by making systems interoperable and in fighting fraud and terrorism, different developments can be witnessed in various EU countries. The various solutions proposed, offer different benefits and pose different threats to both governments and citizens. The most eye-catching solution in this respect is the introduction of a single personal identification number to be used throughout the public sector. Undoubtedly, the advantage in reducing the administrative burden for both government and citizen makes the single identification a very attractive proposition. At the same time, the costs of security measures to safeguard it, may not be sufficient to retain the citizen’s trust in a reliable government. The findings of the  deliverable 7.8 on Ambient Law may be referred to in this context. In the scenario, where substantial user control is absent, the introduction of a unique identifier makes the consumer and citizen more transparent. Thereby, facilitating the linkage of a profile to the number ID and linking different profiles to each other via this number, could potentially result in undesirable surveillance opportunities.


This report aims to provide suggestions for recommendations for a well-balanced and privacy-friendly policy for the use of ID numbers in the public domain. The phenomenon of the ID number is therefore first discussed conceptually. The study begins by providing an overview of the historic developments. Next a conceptual framework is presented consisting of legal and socio-cultural approaches. Finally, there is a discussion concerning the most prominent and current use of ID-numbers in the technical context. A single global unique identifier seems to especially have many advantages. This is in the area of profiling and interoperability. However, from a privacy point of view, profiling harbours many risks and solutions for these potential harms are being sought. Deliverables 4.2 (interoperability) and 7.2 (profiling) provide valuable input for these sections. In Part II an empirical study is given of the background and present policy and usage of ID numbers in a sample of various EU countries. These country reports illustrate how the conceptual aspects described in Part I are put into practice. The empirical and conceptual approaches make it possible to elicit lessons learned and provide benchmarks, by which to develop arguments for policy recommendations.


As befits the Fidis network of excellence, this deliverable has been realised through a community of researchers, working together from different perspectives on common objectives. It aims at contributing to a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of single versus multiple identifiers in the public domain. It is therefore part of the analysis of the implications of technologies for protecting and enabling the secure and trusted distribution of identity digital assets. 



College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens 2002 

College bescherming persoonsgegevens, Electronische overheid en privacy. Bescherming van persoonsgegevens in de informatiestructuur van de overheid, Den Haag, 2002.

Commission of the European Communities 2004 

Commission of the European Communities, A new EU Action Plan 2004-2007 to prevent fraud on non-cash means of , Brussels, 20.10.2004 COM (2004) 679 final.

Grijpink 2006 

J.H.A.M. Grijpink, Identiteitsfraude en overheid, Justitiele verkenningen, jg 32 (2006), nr 7.

Koops 2001 

B.J. Koops, Een nieuwe GBA, digitale kluisjes en identificatiedrang, NJB 32 (32) (2001), pp. 1555-1561.

Lasky & Fletcher 1998 

K. Lasky & A. Fletcher, The future of privacy volume 2: Public trust and the use of private information, London: Demos 1998.

Personal Identification Number Enquiry 1994 

Personal identification Numbers – Privacy and Efficiency. Personal Identification Number Enquiry. Sweden, 1994. 

Prins & Van der Meulen 2006 

J.E.J. Prins & N.S. van der Meulen, Identiteitsdiefstal: lessen uit het buitenland, Justitiele Verkenningen 32 (2006), nr 7.

Prins & De Vries 2003 

C. Prins & M. de Vries, ID or not to be? Naar een doordacht stelsel voor digitale identificatie, Den Haag: Rathenau Instituut 2003, Working document 91, p. 13.

Working Party on Information Security and Privacy 2001 

Working Party on Information Security and Privacy, Report on the OECD forum session on privacy-enhancing technologies, Parijs: OECD 2001.


Executive Summary  fidis-wp13-del13_3_number_policies_final.sxw  PART ONE – PROBLEM DOMAINS
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