Greece Just Gave a Glimpse of How the EU’s “Voluntary” Digital ID Wallet Will Gradually Become Mandatory

The EU Commission has repeatedly stated that EU citizens will not face discrimination or exclusion for not using its new digital identity wallet. However, the Greek government just signaled its intent to do just that. 

Unbeknown to most EU citizens, digital identity is now a legal reality across the 27-nation bloc. On February 28, the European Parliament gave its final approval to the European Commission’s Digital Identity Regulation with a comfortable majority of 335 votes to 190, with 31 abstentions. The EU Council of Ministers gave its blessing on March 26. According to the Commission, the next step will be its publication in the Official Journal and its entry into force 20 days later, which by my calculations will be in just three days’ time.

The EU regulation obliges all member states to make a digital identity wallet available to every citizen who wants one. That is how the new system is currently being marketed — as an optional extra for citizens who want to avail of its many benefits. The wallet can be used to store people’s surnames, first names, dates and place of birth, gender, or nationality as well as enable Europeans to identify themselves online. Its touted benefits include making it easier to access public and private-sector services across EU borders, helping to streamline bureaucracy and reduce the risks of digital fraud and other forms of cyber crime.

This, one might think, would be a big news story given the potential of digital identity to transform, for better or worse (my money’s certainly on the latter), myriad aspects of EU citizens’ lives. Yet it has been met by a wall of silence in both the mainstream and social media. As I noted in my 2022 book Scanned, once digital ID systems are established mission creep is all but guaranteed. Don’t take my word for it; take that of the part state-owned French defense contractor Thales Group, a company that derives most of its profits from weapons and war but is also one of the leading forces behind the development of digital identity programs worldwide, including the EU’s:

Thales Group laid it out in an internal blog authored by its head of digital identity services portfolio, Kristel Teyras.

The ambition is huge; both in terms of scale — as it applies to al EU member states — and also in the power it would grant to citizens throughout the Bloc. For the first time, citizens would be able to use a European digital identity wallet, from their phone, that would give them access to services in any region across Europe.

Note Teyras’ use of the verb  “would be able to” in the second sentence. As German financial journalist Norbert Häring points out, “if we want to remove the gloss… we would only have to replace ‘be able to’ with ‘have to.’´”

“That sounds a lot scarier, doesn’t it,” asks Häring.

As the following infographic from the World Economic Forum shows, a full-fledged digital identity system, as currently conceived, could end up touching just about every aspect of our lives, from our health (including the vaccines we are supposed to receive) to our money (particularly once central bank digital currencies are rolled out), to our business activities, our private and public communications, the information we are able to access, our dealings with government, the food we eat and the goods we buy. It could also offer governments and the companies they partner with unprecedented levels of surveillance and control powers.

Voluntary or Not?

In a 2018 report on digital IDs, the WEF admitted that while verifiable digital identities “create new markets and business lines” for companies, especially those in the tech industry that help to operate the ID systems while no doubt vacuuming up the data, for individuals they “open up (or close off) the digital world with its jobs, political activities, education, financial services, healthcare and more.” It is the part in brackets — the “closing off” of the digital (and to a certain extent, the analog) realm — that should trouble us all.

But according to the Commission, EU citizens have nothing to fear. The Digital Identity Wallet, it says, will be used on a strictly voluntary basis, and “no one can be discriminated against for not using the wallet.” Yet that is exactly what the EU said about the digital COVID-19 certificate it unleashed across the EU in the summer of 2021.

The Green Pass legislation stipulated that “[t]he issuance of certificates should not lead to differential treatment and discrimination based on vaccination status or the possession of a specific certificate.” Yet within months of its launch it was being used by member states to ban people from travelling, accessing many public spaces and, in some cases, even from being able to work. In Austria the government locked down around two million people for not being vaccinated — at a time (November 2021) when it was already clear that the vaccines were exceedingly leaky.

As with the vaccine certificate, the initial goal regarding the digital ID wallet is to achieve as broad an uptake in as short a time as possible. And the government of Greece just provided a hint of how that might be achieved: by making access to certain public services and spaces — in this case, sports stadiums — contingent on possession of the digital ID wallet. From the government’s official ticketing website (machine translated):

We Are Returning to the Pitches Digitally and Safely!

From April 9, 2024, the Wallet, the Digital Wallet we have on our mobile phone, will be the necessary “tool” for every sports fan who wants to follow his favorite team. The way fans enter stadiums and stadiums throughout the country will now be done through the Wallet…

Based on the Joint Ministerial Decision of the Deputy Minister of Sports Yiannis Vroutsis and the Minister of Digital Governance Dimitris Papastergiou, the new way of entering the stadiums with the Wallet ticket will come into effect from April 9, 2024.

However, at the request of Sports Associations and Clubs, in order to be properly prepared and to give the necessary adaptation time to the fans, it will be possible to enter the stadiums, both in the way that was done prior to April 9, as well as with the ticket in Wallet, until the end of the current season.

Of course, this policy directly contradicts the Commission’s repeated assurances that the digital identity wallet is purely optional and that EU citizens will not face discrimination for not using one. In a recent press release, the Commission states that in the horse-trading over the digital identity legislation, “MEPs secured provisions to safeguard citizens’ rights and foster an inclusive digital system by avoiding discrimination against people opting not to use the digital wallet.”

So, does that mean EU authorities will be rebuking the Greek government for announcing its intent to discriminate against sports fans who don’t want to use the digital identity wallet, even before the EU regulation comes into force? Almost certainly not. On the contrary, the Commission has probably already given its tacit approval to the Greek government’s new rules. If the recent experience with the COVID-19 certificates is any guide, many other governments will soon be following suit with their own forms of exclusionary measures.

The threat of exclusion from being able to use basic services, carry out basic administrative procedures or, as in this case, access public spaces will be the primary means by which the EU hopes to achieve critical mass with its digital ID program. As Ekathimerini reports, making digital ID mandatory for entrance into stadiums is seen as a way of “expanding” the application’s use. According to Greece’s Digital Governance Ministry, 1,877,032 people have so far downloaded the digital identity wallet since its launch in July 2022. That is roughly 17% of the population. 

At the same time, the EU is in direct talks with the US on aligning their digital identity standards. As  While Washington significantly lags behind Brussels this area, with most digital ID efforts taking place at the state level through the roll out of mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs), both sides are working on making technical standards for digital identity compatible.

Echoes of Aadhaar?

The EU is not the first government to have launched a digital identity program on the premise that it will function on a purely voluntary basis. India’s Aadhaar system, the world’s largest biometric digital ID system, was initially introduced as a voluntary way of improving welfare service delivery. But the Modi government rapidly expanded its scope by making it mandatory for welfare programs and state benefits.

The mission creep didn’t end there. Aadhaar has become all but necessary to access a plethora of private sector services, including medical records, bank accounts and pension payments. Other scenarios in which the Modi government has mandated Aadhaar to facilitate government services include income tax filing, mobile SIM card registration, know your customer (KYC) verification for mutual fund investments, and applications for “digital life certificates.”

Plans are also afoot to link voter registration to Aadhaar, despite the system’s glaring security flaws (some of which we covered in this article). Besides the acute vulnerability of its data storage and access systems, Aadhaar has many other downsides, as I noted in Scanned:

For a start, it tracks users’ movements between cities, their employment status and purchasing records. It is a de facto social credit system that serves as the key entry point for accessing services in India. While the system has helped to speed and clean up India’s bureaucracy, it has also massively increased the Indian government’s surveillance powers and excluded over 100 million people from welfare programs as well as basic services.

A growing number of human rights organizations have flagged concerns about the worldwide rush by governments and their private sector partners to roll out digital identity systems. In June 2022, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, a “hub for human rights study” at New York University (NYU) School of Law, published a 100-page report warning about the growing dangers posed by digital identity programs. The report, titled Paving a Digital Road to Hell?, examined the role of the World Bank and other international networks in promoting the use of digital ID in recent years.

“Instead of providing a birth certificate, these new systems will help to create “digital public infrastructure” as part of a “digital stack” to “enable paperless, cashless, remote, and data-empowered transactions”…

Th[is] economic approach to identity may lead to new forms of coercion and exploitation of
poor populations and their data by the public and private sector—as critics of the Aadhaar
system have pointed out…

Meanwhile, governments in the Global South are taking on large debts and spending millions in public funds on contracts with private vendors to build biometric systems that can all too easily become systems of exclusion, surveillance, and repression. The [World] Bank takes great pains to state that biometrics are not required. But by emphasizing their benefits throughout its documentation, the ID4D Initiative has helped to normalize the extensive use of biometrics in digital ID systems.

This report singles out the World Bank and its Identity for Development (ID4D) initiative for opprobrium while also noting that the program was started with a “catalytic investment” from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Omidyar Network, as well as governments such as the UK and France.

“We have noted that the World Bank and its ID4D Initiative do not stand alone in pursuing the digital ID agenda. They exist within a global network of organizations and individuals,” including philanthropic foundations, financial institutions and “private biometrics corporations like Idemia, Thales, and Gemalto”.

The report recommends a range of actions, including slowing down processes so that more care is taken and making discussions around digital ID systems more public. As I have previously noted, digital identity programs and central bank digital currencies are among the most important questions today’s societies could possibly grapple with since they threaten to transform our lives beyond recognition, granting governments and their corporate partners much more granular control over our lives. Given what is at stake, they should be under discussion in every parliament of every land, and every dinner table in every country in the world. The fact they aren’t speaks volumes about whose interests they are meant to serve.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    There are so many uses that a EU digital identity can be put to use down the track. Want to go on to the internet? You have to log on with your Digital Identity first. Refuse to take the next experimental, untested vaccine for Pandemic X? You won’t be able to go to many places where a Digital Identity is mandatory. But there is one thing that I can foresee. The EU has wanted to introduce taxation on the EU level. This would be on top of the taxes that you pay your own government in the EU. With the creation of a Digital Identity, this becomes simple as if you do not pay your EU taxes, then you might find yourself cut off from all other financial services. In the same way that you cannot live in a modern society without money, I think that in the future EU that it will be true to say that you cannot live there without a Digital Identity. And they will leave it up to member States to force their citizens to go along with it as seen in Greece. So it will not be so much mission creep as mission gallop. European Hegemony, here we come.

    1. Jeff V

      Yet another Brexit benefit!

      Never mind that if we were still in the EU then the UK government could probably have vetoed it.

      And never mind that following the “success” of the EU digital identity there will probably be calls for a UK version. Once appropriate safeguards are put in place to protect foreign money launderers, of course.

      1. The Rev Kev

        I would not be surprised if the UK government got there first. Would not matter if it was a Tory or Labour government in power then as they are both the same – authoritarian totalitarians.

        1. Michaelmas

          The Rev Kev: I would not be surprised if the UK government got there first.

          They can try. No UK government has ever even been able to introduce and maintain a law to enforce individual ID cards against widespread British public resistance, which sees ID cards as being the mark pf a police state

          “The United Kingdom last had compulsory national identity cards during World War II when they were introduced for security purposes. Wartime ID cards were finally withdrawn by the Churchill government in 1952 because of the tension they created between the police and citizens. Proposals to reintroduce them have been raised on a number of occasions since then … (including with) the Identity Cards Act 2006 as part of a state-approved counterterrorism initiative by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair … This was subsequently repealed by the Identity Documents Act 2010….”

          The British refusal to carry ID cards was one of the indirect causes of Brexit, in that immigration from the EU couldn’t be controlled once immigrants were inside the country.

        2. TimH

          Notice that Greece requires their ID app on a phone? It’s not just ID, but a tracker. And the phone has access to the user’s guaranteed identity. The ramifications are scary.

          Phone numbers will be IDs.

    2. vidimi

      it can also be used to conscript men to throw into the meat grinder in ukraine. you try to use it for some other purpose and they can see that, hold on, you should be at the front.

      1. GDmofo

        Or if you’re in the midst of a genocide, it can make programs like “Where’s Daddy” have even more data to cull from.

  2. ambrit

    What is not being mentioned is the extreme potentials for ‘Monkeywrenching” the system once this is up and running.
    I can foresee the time soon when that scene from “THX 1138” where Thix searches for his partner and finds a fetus holding her identity, becomes reality.
    The best science fiction is prophetic.

  3. Ghost in the Machine

    What about extended power failures? Or other communication infrastructure? No one gets to do anything if some critical company has an issue? A company likely run by a sociopath, cutting corners, and buying back stock? One benefit of increasing infrastructure damage from climate change as well as other chaos would be to make such Orwellian plans infeasible.

      1. dandyandy

        Interesting piece that. Made me think whether it was native Ukrainians that invented and implemented all this or whether some “top notch tech” “friends” got invited for a modest fee of course to use a 40-50 million of real life guineas for an experiment of total body and soul control of real human beings.

    1. Pavel

      My initial reaction precisely. From the destruction of Kiev’s power supplies to Puerto Rico being out of electricity for weeks after a storm, there’s a lot that can go wrong.

      Apart from that I see a vigorous underground economy of alternative currencies, bartering, and coins.

      After the covid debacle of lockdowns and vax IDs for travel, I’m hoping the “regular people” will finally rebel against this monstrosity. That depends a lot on regional politics and culture, of course; the Gilets Jaunes in FR had a lot of popular support. People are already pissed off about endless UKR spending. Launching this might be a bridge too far.

      A boy can dream… Meanwhile I’ll get another bundle of cash from my ATM.

  4. Yaiyen

    I can bet this will be a nightmare for women who are running from their husbands or someone escaping from the mafia. I have a feeling you will not need high clearance to look up people digital info. You would have to escape from eu

  5. hemeantwell

    It is very easy to imagine the US PMC deciding, in their technomoralistic mania, to run with this, giving Republicans a fistful of coffin nails for the Dems.

    1. Bsn

      So many people are unaware of this subject so yes, it would be wonderful if Repubs, or anyone running would bring this up. Most people I know think this is all about credit cards.

      1. flora

        Repubs in several states are passing laws saying cash must always be accepted even if CBDCs come into existence, laws saying the WHO/UN health dictates from a new pandemic treaty do not override or control the state’s control of their own health departments control of health decisions. etc. Digital IDs are being offered for drivers licenses in many states, not required. The federal system of the US is the chink in the armor of globalists’ dreams. If the EU had a federal system that was like the US’s none of this nonsense would have got this far, imo. / ;)

      2. NotThePilot

        Eh… I suspect the Republicans (who never seemed that upset about the Patriot Act or all those security-state server farms in NoVA) aren’t opposing anything on principal. They don’t want to see Team Dem claiming serfs through globalist institutions… because then the Repubs can’t claim them through nationalist ones. I suspect this is all cattle-rustling between the Dems and Repubs, they see us as the cattle, and both sides are just arguing over who gets branded with what.

        More specific to this case though, I’m not surprised one bit that Greece was the first EU country to float this. It definitely matches the vibe coming out of Athens, like the recent announcement that the Greek government will fund free vacations for mainly British tourists evacuated from the wildfires last year. I’m all for preserving the tradition of Greek hospitality (and perhaps a new Greek tradition of universal travel insurance?), but given how badly the society is doing, this looks more like sad, colonial boot-licking.

        Especially under Mitsotakis. Fun fact: Mitsotakis’ dad was once PM too, and the only one that thought inviting the “Greek” king (sarc quotes) back for a grand tour was a good idea. In short, the more you think about it, Greece is pretty much the Pakistan of Europe, and Mitsotakis is definitely not Imran Khan.

  6. Rip Van Winkle

    How long does it take to replace those large electrical transformers and where are they manufactured?

    I’m old enough to remember the neighborhood corner grocery store proprietor adding up the bill with a thick pencil on the side of the brown paper bag. Easy enough to fast forward to oz of Ag conversion.

  7. Feral Finster

    Makes it that much easier to freeze bank accounts of anyone participating in a protest that Brussels doesn’t approve of.

    1. jobs

      This is going to be the boot to crush dissent on a massive scale, especially with Europe’s rising economic troubles.

  8. WillD

    When will EU citizens wake up to this accelerating imposition of draconian measures to surveille and control them?

    1. Yaiyen

      Never because EU people have become sheeps and even if one day they wake up all party’s are the same, so voting dont matter

      1. yep

        Except in Hungary and Slovakia. Easterners are still resisting. Poles would also, if they have not been blinded by their hate towards Russia.

  9. Trees&Trunks

    I wonder what Russia is doing on this front.
    This kind of shit is the product of Western politicians and other elite that are incompetent and therefore need this technology for repression of discontent.

  10. JW

    France already has L’Identity Numerique, which ‘allows’ access to a myriad of government/social/commercial resources. You are encouraged to put the app on your phone , readily available from the likes of La Poste.
    All these are based on the Ukrainian ‘government on the phone’ concept which I think pre-dated the Indian one.
    France has yet to incorporate the dreaded QR code into the app to make it obligatory to use it for access. But that , technology wise , is an easy step. No-one that I am aware of seems bothered, there is no ‘yellow vest’ or farmers-type movement over this. Why? Because it doesn’t hit the Frenchman/woman in the pocket and the ‘yoof’ of today just see it as ‘another app’.

  11. John Jones

    Why the suprise at the EU ? It’s a scorpion & as the fable says ” it’s what I do” .

    When will people wake up to the other principal characteristic of a regulatory and political union and that is control – of people & capital.

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