(Expanding on a previous post)
Electronic identity schemes and smart cards have been a long-standing issue for most e-government programs in Europe. Spain happens to have one of the most widely deployed identity cards (called DNI) and one of the EU project (STORK) deals with how to use each other’s cards when dealing with administrations in different countries.
While this is desirable objective, it suffers from the basic problem that almost all eID programs have, which is how make the use of an eID card compelling and not just compulsory. Stories that I heard from people in Spain confirm what I have seen in my own region, Lombardy, which introduced health smart cards several years ago. When I got a smart card reader in my conference bag at a Spanish event, this reminded me of when you could get a smart card reader at newsstands in Milan, to entice people to install them and use the card. The uptake in Lombardy has been abysmal and, while most people carry the card around and show that at hospitals and GPs, very few have asked for the pin that can be obtained by showing up at few local council offices or filling a form at a post office. Further, like in Spain, also Italy has an eID card, which is different from the health card (and also barely successful), while like Italy also Spain has different cards at regional level.
The reality is that interaction with government is, in most cases, far less frequent than other interactions, such as those with banks, retailers, mobile operators, all using some form of card. Of course there are services that would make eID cads more compelling, such as transportation, museums, theaters, libraries, but these tend to be very local and unlikely to use national schemes.
Do not get me wrong. National eID cards play a great role in doing what they were originally supposed to do, i.e. identify people for public safety or law enforcement reasons: it is not by chance that these schemes are usually managed by the police or the ministries of interior. So we will carry around a card if somebody asks us to show it to get into a secure building or check our credentials when we are stopped for speeding. But it is very unlikely we will ever find their use compelling unless we get services that we need and that we use frequently enough.
When it comes to the European picture, I am fine with a police officer in another country being able to slide my eID card into a reader and check my credentials. But if I am unlikely to use my eID card in my country, it is even less likely I will do so elsewhere for most services. On the other hand my mobile phone (with its SIM card) already roams, and my credit card works in other countries too.
As open government initiatives are showing, government information and services will become more user-centric and more compelling as they are joined with third party information and services, which are more frequently or more naturally used by citizens.
Will STORK ever address the problem of making eID cards something I cannot live without? Or should it just focus on one domain (e.g. public safety), releasing research resources to explore the use of approaches like OpenID, to let people choose the form of identification they find most compelling for any given service?