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Germany Gets Set to Issue RFID ID Cards and Readers to Its Citizens

The government hopes its new national ID cards will foster Internet-based commerce, by enabling citizens to use the cards and readers at home to carry out online transactions without putting their personal or financial data at risk.
By Rhea Wessel
Oct 06, 2010In an ambitious project designed to provide citizens with a more secure form of identification, as well as a secure method for conducting business via the Internet, Germany will begin issuing RFID-based national identity cards on Nov. 1, 2010.

With the rollout of the new ID cards, Germany will become the first country to outfit its national ID cards with the same technological features of a passport—such as biometric photos, RFID chips and optional digital fingerprints—according to Andreas Reisen, who heads the division of the German Ministry of the Interior responsible for introducing the cards.

Germany's new RFID-based national identity cards contain a passive 13.56 MHz SmartMX chip from NXP Semiconductors.

The RFID-based card, approximately the size of a credit card, will replace the nation's current national ID card, which is slightly larger than a credit card and lacks an RFID chip. It will be mandatory for all citizens receiving an ID card for the first time, or who are replacing older ID cards. Those who do not need to renew or replace their ID cards will continue to be able to use their non-RFID version until their cards expire—typically, within 10 years. Beginning in May 2011, foreigners living in Germany will have the opportunity to use similar cards, in the form of an electronic version of their residency permits.

In 2008, the German government passed a law paving the way for the new ID cards. One motivation for issuing the cards was to help reduce the misuse of personal data over the Internet. Many Germans are still reluctant to make online purchases, due to worries that their personal data or financial information could be misused.

By installing an RFID card reader on their home computer, citizens can use the card to positively identify themselves online, via a USB connection. This enables vendors and online organizations to know for certain whom they are dealing with. If a business wants to offer residents of a particular city a discount on a product or service, for instance, that company can verify an individual's address on his or her ID card.

As part of the project, each citizen will be able to download free software developed for the national ID cards, starting on Nov. 1. The software, formerly known as Buerger Client, is now called AusweisApp (which, translated to English, means ID App). AusweisApp was developed by OpenLimit on behalf of the Federal Office for Information Security (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik, or BSI). According to Reisen, the software will allow citizens to identify themselves using their ID card at their PC, as well as execute an electronic signature, if they opt to have their electronic signature stored in the card's memory. If a citizen wants to employ the signature function, he or she must first obtain a signature certificate from an authorized certification-service provider (a list of such companies is available on the Web site of the Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railway).

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