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EU puts forward e-wallet proposal

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European Commission vice-president in charge Europe fit for the digital age Margrethe Vestager gives a press conference with the EU commissioner for Internal Market on establishing a European Digital Identity Framework at the European Commission in Brussels, on June 3, 2021. (Photo by STEPHANIE LECOCQ / POOL / AFP)

EU citizens could soon store all their identity documents digitally, to be used with the wave of a smartphone or online, under a proposal unveiled Thursday by the European Commission.

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The European Digital Identity wallets would be used to store digital copies of passports, drivers’ licences, bank statements, university degrees and other important papers, to be called on whenever an EU citizen needs to prove their identity.

Users would have control over how much of that data is shared in each interaction.

Importantly, the EU commissioner for digital matters Margrethe Vestager told a news conference, the e-wallets could be used as a safer, ad-free alternative when logging onto websites offering services.

“So you do not use your platform-specific account — like your Google account or your Facebook account — but that you can use your own identity. And because of that, you can decide how much data you want to share,” she said.

Vestager emphasised that the proposal — which would become law if adopted by the European Parliament and member states — would not be compulsory for EU citizens, but was designed to make their lives easier when dealing with government and commercial services.

The EU commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, added that high-level encryption would be used to protect the personal data.

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“I, therefore, call on the member states to take account of post-quantum cryptography to ensure maximum security,” he said.

Vestager said that the plan is for e-wallets to become available one year after the EU regulation ends up being passed, which would mean late next year at the earliest.

She added that rollout could be accelerated under a coronavirus recovery package about to distribute hundreds of billions of euros to EU countries.

Technical work was already underway, she said, to show EU citizens that the e-wallets “cannot be hacked (and) that you are in control of your data”.

The proposal is part of a wider approach by the European Commission to boost the EU’s transition to a digital future. It has set itself a target of having all public services in the EU available online by 2030 and ensuring that every EU citizen has a digital medical record.

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EUMargrethe Vestager
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