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Jonathan Goldsmith is the secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies Here is a topic to raise the blood pressure of every patriotic UK citizen. Whereas on the continent, benign democratic societies flourish with a population which carries ID cards, somehow it is thought that darkness will descend on the UK if ID cards are ever introduced.The likely next government (Conservative) thinks they are a very bad idea, and even the limited ID measures introduced under Labour will doubtless then be scrapped. There are two of us in the office in Brussels who come from the British Isles, and we both agree that ID cards – which we have to carry here in Belgium – make life a lot easier. Many continental bars issue ID cards to their lawyers. A growing number issue cards to their members with national bar details on one side and our CCBE details on the other. As the electronic age advances, the question arises as to whether such cards provide a solution for proving lawyers’ identity in cross-border transactions, through the electronic chip embedded in them. Some feel – particularly from the UK – that a card is not necessary, and a log-in and password will suffice. The discussion is becoming more urgent, because the European Commission is taking large-scale initiatives to resolve the question of cross-border e-identity. The general story starts with the STORK project (if you really want to know, the name comes from the following letters: Secure idenTity acrOss boRders linKed). Their marketing brochure even uses a lawyer as an example: ‘A Portuguese university student is transferring for one year to an Austrian University; a Swedish lawyer settles and launches his business in Spain. Is there any way for them to change their addresses and interact with the public services of their host countries without losing time and energy? … STORK will facilitate this situation by enabling businesses and citizens to securely use their national electronic identities and receive services from public administrations while living or travelling in any member state.’ As a recent STORK report points out, there is a Government Gateway in the UK which individual government departments and local authorities can choose to use, but ‘none of the centrally issued citizen documents enable eID for the citizen. Passports and driving licenses do not currently have means of being read electronically over the internet… The predominant token is a user ID and password.’ STORK is at pains to point out that it does not wish to mandate any particular system which all member states must adopt: ‘The plan is to align and link systems without having to replace existing ones … enabling citizens to prove their identity and use national electronic identity systems (passwords, ID cards, PIN codes and others), not just in their home country.’ The issue has just become more relevant because the European Commission is launching a new, large project specifically aimed at establishing connections between national e-identity systems in the justice sector. This will cover not just lawyers, but also judges, notaries, prosecutors and other actors. Again, the aim is not to insist that member states install particular structures, but to ensure that users of national structures can use them also across EU borders. Some member states – for instance, Portugal, Austria and Spain – have advanced systems for e-justice, and this new project aims to open them up to cross-border use. There is one more development to add to the mix. The Spanish Bar is leading an EU-funded initiative called PenalNet with four other EU bars (France, Hungary, Italy and Romania) to provide secure communications between criminal lawyers. This is seen as a prototype for a secure communication system between lawyers in Europe in general. They are using the CCBE card, and the standards that we have previously approved, to provide ‘the certainty that a lawyer is actually dealing with another authenticated colleague, and that the latter is the only [one] entitled to access the content received. Likewise, the system guarantees that the information exchanged cannot be modified or rejected.’ I have a question. It is notable that the UK, although sometimes participating in these initiatives, is not leading any of them. Is this because of our fear of ID cards, and of our broader fears of centralised systems and databases (since, for instance, they can be abused)? We all use credit cards – are ID cards really such a qualitative leap? And we have seen this week in the Dubai assassination case that existing UK passports can be used for nefarious purposes. The carousel of secure cross-border transactions through e-identity authentication is moving faster, and we have to jump on at some stage. What is holding us back?