Smart Takes

Electronic national identity cards: good idea, or security headache?

Electronic national identity cards: good idea, or security headache?

Posting in Government

Germany has introduced electronic identity cards that store personal data on microchips, but citizens are worried about privacy and security.

A smarter world means a more connected world -- but also a more secure one, too.

After all, you might be fine with sharing your party photos or your favorite movies with your friends, Facebook, Google or even the federal government -- but what about your identity?

Germany on Monday introduced electronic identity cards that store personal data on microchips, Reuters reports, but their very existence has citizens worried about data protection -- particularly in light of the country's history of, well, poor surveillance practices.

The cards are called "eIDs," and allow owners to identify themselves online and sign documents with an electronic signature.

The idea behind them is to increase the safety of e-commerce, but Germans fear the cards -- which store date and place of birth, address and biometric photo (fingerprints voluntary) -- are a timebomb for data theft and privacy violations.

The German government says the cards merely give the user the ability to offer that information -- that is, it's up to you when you want to share it.

But 44 percent of Germans remain skeptical, according to a survey by Bitkom. And there has been a 10 percent increase in ID card applications -- not because Germans are rushing to get the new IDs, but rather to get the old, non-electronic versions that will be phased out, according to the report.

(It's ironic, really. Germany, a nation that prides itself on technology -- have you ever taken a late train in the country? -- has a Big Brother past that's crippling its own progress.)

Americans may remember similar sentiment about the RFID tags embedded in new passports, which first came to market in 2006, much to the chagrin of security experts.

The debate centers around a question that's at the core of technological advancement: is enabling technology worth it if it enables bad behavior as well as good?

Would you like to see an electronic ID card in the U.S.? Leave your comments below.

Share this

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure