EU ministers move towards harmonised ID card system

Maltese identity cards will require new upgrade for machine-readable, contactless chip format

Maltese ID cards were overhauled back in 2012 so as to include an eID chip that allows the card to be machine-readable
Maltese ID cards were overhauled back in 2012 so as to include an eID chip that allows the card to be machine-readable

EU ambassadors have agreed to introduce tighter security on member states’ identity cards and residence documents for EU citizens and non-EU family members.

The plan is to improve the security of ID cards by introducing minimum standards on the information contained in them and on security features common to all member states.

The Council presidency, now held by Austria, will negotiate the rules with the European Parliament once the latter adopts a position on the security standards.

Under the proposed new rules, identity cards will have to be produced in a uniform, credit card format that will make them machine-readable, and follow the minimum security standards set out by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation).

They will also need to include a photo and two fingerprints of the cardholder, stored in a digital format, on a contactless chip.

The proposed rules do not require member states to introduce identity cards or residence documents if they are not foreseen under national law.

ID cards will have a maximum period of validity of 10 years. Existing identity cards which do not meet the requirements will stop being valid 10 years after the new rules or at their expiry, whichever is earlier. The least secure cards which do not meet the minimum security standards or do not have a machine-readable zone will expire within five years.

The proposed rules also specify the minimum information to be contained in residence documents issued to EU citizens, and will harmonise the format for residence cards of non-EU members of families of EU citizens.

In April the Commission put forward the proposal that would see ID cards across the union include fingerprints and facial recognition, as has already been rolled out with passports. But at the time Malta was not supporting the measures.

Malta is one of 16 countries where citizens are obliged to provide their fingerprints for ID cards. But a harmonised system will cost millions of euros to upgrade to new ID cards.

The new system could allow law enforcement authorities better access to bank account information inside national centralised registries, as well as better sharing of information between national Financial Intelligence Units.

The civil liberties NGO Statewatch has argued that the measures are unwarranted. “The introduction of some mandatory EU-wide standards for identity cards may well be justified – but the proposal to fingerprint 175 million people as part of that is irrelevant and unjustified.” The NGO insists Brussels has not sufficiently demonstrated that biometric ID documents are justifiable for security reasons.

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