EU launches digital identity wallet driven by pandemic, digital push

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By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission announced plans on Thursday for a digital identity wallet to allow Europeans to access public and private services via their mobile phone as the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for user-friendly online services.

The move also seeks to counter privacy and data protection concerns related to digital wallets offered by Apple, Alphabet unit Google, Thales and financial institutions.

The digital wallet will allow Europeans to digitally identify themselves when accessing public and private services such as accessing a bank account, applying for a loan, submitting tax declarations and enrolling in a university.

"The European digital identity will enable us to do in any member state as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles," EU tech chief Margrethe Vestager said.

"EU citizens not only expect a high level of security but also convenience whether they are dealing with national administrations such as to submit a tax return or to enrol at a European university where they need official identification," EU industry chief Thierry Breton said.

The adoption of an electronic wallet could generate as much as 9.6 billion euros ($11.7 billion) in benefits for the EU and create as many as 27,000 jobs over a five-year period, the EU document said, confirming a Reuters story on June 1.

By reducing emissions related to public services, the e-wallet could also have a positive environmental impact, the Commission said. The digital identity wallet will not be not obligatory for Europeans.

EU countries have until Sept. 22 to set out the technical architecture, standards and guidelines for best practices for using the digital identity wallet.

Currently 14 EU countries have national schemes of electronic identity.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee)

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