The French government agency responsible for official documents’ security is partnering identity-focused technology company IDEMIA as state authorities look to enable citizens to verify their identity and make online transactions using smartphones.
The Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisés (ANTS) is collaborating with the company on national digital ID programme ‘France Identité Numérique’ and integrating new ‘CNIe’ electronic ID cards (where ‘CNI’ stands for ‘carte nationale d’identité’) with smartphones.
The new functionality is underpinned by the pre-existing ‘FranceConnect’ platform, which enables people to access different government services using the same user ID code (‘identifiant’) and password.
Under the new mobile system, if citizens want to verify themselves via their smartphone, their phone will receive an authentication request. Users then place their CNIe on the back of their phone, which will communicate using near-field communication (NFC) technology. An app will securely read and authenticate personal data held in the card’s chip.
‘Hundreds’ of additional online services will soon be available via an Agence Nationale de la Sécurité des Systèmes d’Information (ANSSI)-certified authentication system, according to a press release issued by France-headquartered IDEMIA. ANSSI is the French national cybersecurity agency.
‘Combining physical ID with digital ID’
“Our mission is to create and offer a user-friendly means of electronic identification that facilitates and protects the online transfer of citizen identity data, so that transactions cannot be centralised or traced,” said Valérie Peneau, director of the France Identité Numérique programme.
“The new CNIe with its highly-secure chip is a great example of combining a physical ID document with a digital ID to securely access online services,” said Pierre Lelièvre, senior vice-president for digital ID at IDEMIA, which specialises in identity and security technology. The company is providing ANTS with the specific digital solution that allows citizens to authenticate themselves remotely as well as the ANSSI-certified ‘secure communication channel’ for data exchanges.
The government began a ‘gradual’ rollout of the new card from 15 March in the Oise department, north of the capital Paris. Then, from 29 March, also in Seine-Maritime (in the Normandy region) and Réunion (French island in the Indian Ocean). The national launch was last month.
An announcement in March by the ministry of the Interior described the new identity card as ‘more secure, more practical and with a modernised design’ and would help the authorities intention ‘to fight ever more effectively against the phenomenon of identity fraud’.
Almost 45,000 complaints or rulings by France’s law enforcement agencies related to identity fraud in 2019, according to the ministry. In 2019, 8,881 carriers of false documents were intercepted and 32 criminal networks linked to ‘title fraud’ were ‘dismantled’.
France’s move is at least partly driven by European Union rules on eID.
The ministry’s announcement six months ago stated that the ‘desire for modernisation’ was ‘in line with the application of a regulation of the European Parliament [EP] and of the Council of the European Union that obliges member states to put into circulation new identity cards in accordance with the provisions of this regulation no later than 2 August 2021.’
An EU regulation from June 2019 obliges the 27 member states to put into circulation identity cards including biometric data, fingerprints and photographs, in a highly secure electronic component.
Previously announced French state ID initiatives include ‘Alicem’, a smartphone app using facial recognition that was described by the Interior Ministry last year as the ‘first secure sovereign digital identity solution’.