MAINTENANCE – “French Identity”, an application that facilitates online identity verification to access certain public services, will soon be rolled out in France. This tool responds primarily to consumer logic and raises concerns about the degradation of public services, says Cyrille Dalmont.
Cyrille Dalmont is a Research Fellow at the Thomas More Institute and a specialist in digital ethics.
FIGAROVOX. – From May, the state will implement a new application “French Identity” in France, allowing for identity verification and online procedures, thanks to a chip on the new ID cards. What do you think about the upcoming implementation of this tool?
Cyril Dalmont. – The implementation of this application is to be placed under the eIDAS regulation, the European regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market. Passport digitization within shared identity repository and the digitization of national identity cards fall within this framework. Since the introduction of this European regulation, France has been working on the Alicem project (editor’s footnote, digital identity application by facial recognition), which was rejected by the CNIL due to the use of facial recognition and biometrics. The government changed its mind and switched to this new model where there is no facial recognition and theoretically no data exchange between users’ smartphones and a centralized remote server. But the same was put forward by the government by launching the TousAntiCovid app, and we quickly realized it wasn’t.
Is there data protection information in this app? The CNIL did not oppose “French identity” …
The CNIL did not oppose this, but only commented on the elements provided by the government. It’s a bit the same principle as for StopCovid and TousAntiCovid. This type of process always takes place in several steps; there we have a beta version and it is difficult to see what the consequences will be. If we look at the logic of the European Commission, an identity at the European level would theoretically be linked to medical data. Thanks to Covid, everything related to the exchange of medical data was made possible by the European Commission. Therefore, it is difficult to know what the development of this application will be.
We can only say that the position of the CNIL is in favor of “French identity” as things stand. However, in the case of StopCovid and the health card, the first position of the CNIL was also rather favorable, followed by five unanswered requests for information from the government. In short, if we trust the theory and the test version, there is no data exchange, and theoretically the digital identity provided by this process is limited in time. If we go back to what has been done before, however, we note that these tools tend to violate public freedoms.
There will be a great risk of wanting to save personnel: digitization essentially reduces a certain number of repetitive tasks that have been performed by people.
Although the promoters of this application assure that it will not replace physical public services, should we be afraid of the progressive digitization of procedures, administrative, but also political. Some believe that this app should eventually enable electronic voting …
The issue of electronic voting is undergoing reflection, the latest ballot papers have been equipped with a QR code, but it is never explicitly stated. On the verge of digitization, we notice that there are extremely significant inequalities in access to digital technology. They differ depending on the age group, with a very clear break in use among the elderly, but also depending on the socio-cultural level, with the so-called There are threshold effects for certain categories of people who have low digital literacy skills.
Then there is a great risk of wanting to save personnel: digitization essentially reduces a certain number of repetitive tasks that have been performed by people. The declared goal is never like that, but it actually does. There are fewer employees, counters when it comes to public service.
Exactly, since we are currently dealing with the extension of deadlines for obtaining new identity documents, should we see in this dematerialisation process a way to improve the quality and efficiency of public services?
If we look closely at the ID card renewal procedures, there is already a preliminary online approach that allegedly exists to improve the service and the speed of obtaining them. But we are aware that the deadlines have been extended. It is paradoxical, but at present there are digital devices that allow the pre-filling of documents, and yet the deadlines have been extended.
The logic of digital identity in the European format is primarily intended to facilitate consumer consumption in a completely safe manner.
A person with a very strong digital culture in a highly connected metropolis risks making his life easier, but on the other hand, risks the life of an elderly person quickly decaying in a white area, especially if there is no one left to accompany him in his steps. There will be an obvious generation threshold effect, but also a certain risk of reducing the number of people in communities to carry out this type of task.
What are the arguments in favor of implementing a digital identity?
When Alicem was launched, the initial goal was to be able to consume with confidence, make digital purchases. You have to understand that there is a very European philosophy behind all this, that is, a huge consumer market. The main point is to simplify procedures for the consumer. So the logic of digital identity in the European format is first and foremost to make it easier for the consumer to consume safely. We find it in the way it is presented by Alicem: the points put forward by the Ministry of the Interior placed the emphasis on a number of procedures related to consumption rather than on identity documents. In addition, this digital identity will not allow you to renew your identity documents. The delay will always be just as long. The temporary digital identity generated by the application will first of all enable online consumer procedures, it is an extreme consumer approach.
We can see that in this type of news regarding the digitization of society, the European Commission is responsible, acts through regulations, and therefore is imposed, not negotiated, as the directives allow. And the logic that guides these regulations is clearly consumer-oriented and less and less focused on data protection and individual freedom. The aim of the European Commission is to create a large open data market, as we find in other European legislation, in particular regarding non-personal data. There is by no means an overriding logic to protect public freedoms or to improve the efficiency of public services.