Nevertheless, work remains to be done. The "foreigner card", a vital element in the system, is still very much work in progress. Another major unfinished project is the development of a "teenager card" in order to provide similar functionality for younger people who aren't yet eligible for the "real" ID card, but who will still need to be able to authenticate themselves on the Internet and elsewhere. Ensuring interoperability between the German nPA and similar ID cards from other countries is another big concern, but one which primarily requires the use of common and open standards such as SAML at the higher levels of identity management. It will be important that all ID cards provide the same type of information, for instance during strong authentication or when exchanging postal addresses in machine-readable formats.
Legislators, too, will need to focus their attention on certain ramifications of family law where it is impacted by the new technology. For instance, if youngsters are issued a "teen card", will parents be allowed to monitor their use or usurp them, which could lead to potential misuse and legal battles. Laws will have to be modified to provide better legal protection for children and very young persons than simply blocking websites on the Internet or providing draconian penalties that fail to provide comprehensive safeguards.
In terms of interoperability, governments will need to develop a better understanding for the need of private business since the nPA and other ID cards can do very much more than simply allow authorities to provide e-government services. They should be seen as a powerful tool for the future promotion of trade and industry, where identity authentication will become increasingly crucial in ensuring the growth of the online economy. This is an area of national importance for every government, and Germany is well placed to play a leading role.
Arguments may go on for some time over certain details, but in sum it is safe to say that the nPA represents an important innovation which can and will provide greater informational security. There are signs that the new ID card may well be able to provide many more benefits than those that immediately spring to mind. Compared with some other major state-sponsored projects in the past such as the German highway toll system, the electronic health card or the electronic tax return, the nPA appears to be much more mature at this early stage. Other countries would be well advised to study this example when contemplating solutions of their own for the perennial and pressing problem of managing the digital identities of their citizens.
About the Author
Martin Kuppinger is Founder and Principal Analyst of Kuppinger Cole, which has become one of the leading Europe-based analyst companies for all topics around Identity and Access Management, GRC (Governance, Risk Management, Compliance) and Cloud Computing. Kuppinger Cole is the host of the European Identity Conference 2010, which has established itself as a leading conference on mentioned topics. Martin Kuppinger is the author of more that 50 IT-related books, as well as a widely-read columnist and author of technical articles and reviews. For more information, please click here: www.kuppingercole.com
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