A serious (but removable) obstacle: ID card numbers and the ECI

February 8, 2011 News


The ECI Campaign believes the single greatest weakness of the final ECI regulation is that member states may require their residents to provide ID card numbers in order to support a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI).  Most  member states (18 countries) currently plan to do so. Fortunately, countries may remove this ID card requirement at any time and for any reason. However, they are unlikely to do so without pressure from pro-ECI activists working at the national level.

Speaking at “The European Citizens’ Initiative – A First Assessment” workshop at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium on 25 January, MEP Diana Wallis, co-rapporteur for the ECI, said it was the intention of the European Parliament that, over time, most member states will drop the ID card requirement. However, she said it is unclear how exactly this will happen.

According to Mr. Pecsteen, representative of the Belgian EU Presidency, whether or not to collect ID card numbers was the most difficult issue in Council negotiations on the ECI. Early on, a group of member states, led by France and Italy, insisted on an ID card requirement to ensure the “seriousness” of the ECI. Other countries, wishing to promote citizen participation, opposed such unnecessary obstacles. In the end, each member state was allowed to unilaterally determine on “technical grounds” whether their residents needed to provide ID card numbers — e.g., whether ID card numbers are needed to locate individuals in electoral or population registries. However, there are no guidelines member states must follow in determining the need for ID numbers and no EU oversight on this decision. Individual member states have literally been given “carte blanche” to do as they wish.

The decisions by Belgium and Germany not to collect ID card numbers, after first determining they were technically necessary, provide some useful insights into how other member states may be persuaded to also drop this requirement. When asked a second time by officials supportive of the ECI, interior ministries in Belgium and Germany determined that they could actually verify the identity of individuals using databases without an ID card number — although the process would be more cumbersome than with an ID number. At the same time, the Belgian government discovered that its federal law governing the use of identity cards made it difficult for non-governmental organisations to collect ID card numbers. So both countries dropped the ID card number requirement.

It is therefore quite probable that other countries currently requiring an ID card number may technically also be able to verify the identity of ECI signatories without an ID card number. In fact, in its opinion on data requirements for the ECI, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) indicated that the other information collected (name, address, date and place of birth) would be sufficient for this purpose and that ID card numbers were not necessary.

It is also possible that national laws governing the use of ID card numbers may restrict who can collect such information. National governments may, in fact, be asking ECI organizers to violate their own laws by collecting ID card numbers. This is a possibility also raised in the EDPS opinion.

For now, the only real way to prevent member states using the ID card number requirement purely as an obstacle to dissuade their citizens from supporting an ECI is pressure from pro-democracy actors –both inside and outside government. This is why the ECI Campaign heartily supports national activists in their work to convince their governments to drop the ID card number requirement. Please contact Carsten Berg if you or your organisation are or would like to work on this issue.

Useful Resources:

Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor on the Citizens’ Initiative.  Available online in all 21 official EU languages. See point 10 for the issue of ID card numbers.

National Data Protection Commissioners: List of every EU member state national authority charged with ensuring the protection of personal data, such as identity card numbers. The office should be able to provide information on national laws governing the collection of identity card numbers — e.g., who can collect them and what prior authorization is required.

Privacy International: Human rights watchdog group defending personal privacy. Their website contains multiple reports on the use of national identity cards.

Article 29 Data Protection Working Party: National data protection officials who advise the Commission on any Community measure (such as the ECI) affecting the rights of person with regards to the processing of personal data.

Member states with ID card requirement:

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden.

Member states without ID card requirement:

Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Slovakia,  Estonia, United Kingdom.