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Subject: Cross-border e-Government Identification Issues

PKI-TC: The following is a view of mine, but I think that the question is of general interest as e-Governments represent a very large class of PKI-users.  It fits the "PKI hurdles department".
Dear e-Government architects,
The following highlights a rather controversial issue that definitely do not represent current e-government agendas.
However, some decisions taken today can in fact have a major impact on tomorrow.
Many e-governments have signed-up external ID-providers like banks to cater for things like digital certificates for citizens.  As banks' natural "habitat" is money, they have in most cases "converted" these ID-services into something which is is conceptually very similar to payment systems.  In Sweden to take an example, citizen certificates are free, and distributed from the on-line banks directly to the end-users' PCs.  The "receivers" (the e-government authorities) on the other hand, pay something like 0.25 EURO for each status-check.  This level is "inspired" by the cost of an ordinary postal stamp.  I believe this cost may thwart some more frequent e-government services, but that's another story.

The future problem I see with this is, that without a de-facto monopoly like VISA, it will be hard to process and accept signed messages crossing the borders of these usually only regional, national, or commercial "trust-networks".  Some of these trust networks even make it impossible to verify signatures, as only "valid" (paying) receivers are allowed to get the CA-root.  Only in Sweden, there are four competing trust-networks, each requiring a contract with the receiver as well as having their own transaction fees and proprietary technical solutions.
Unless one see a value in creating an ID monopoly, I think that e-governments should rather pay ID-providers for issuing certificates using a fixed or subscriber-based "cost-model", to not de-facto create new payment networks, financed by tax-money.  A further advantage of that is that private enterprises could then without hesitation use the same infrastructure.  Due to the fact that no matter what you do, e-government ID-systems will be tax-financed, there is little reason for imposing usability limitations at this early stage.
Long-term, I see a possibility that citizens may actually directly pay something like 10-20 EURO yearly for owning a universal electronic identity, but that requires numerous of useful e-gov and other services, as well as a standardized mobile "container" to carry IDs in.   Such a switch may take another 5 years to become technically and commercially feasible.
Just my 2 öres...
Anders Rundgren
Independent consultant, PKI and secure e-business
+46 70 - 627 74 37

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