EU says digital identity will be voluntary, so did India before agencies started mandating it

March 11, 2024


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Will the EU follow India’s example once the digital identity wallets are launched? perspective

The European Union parliament says that the digital identity wallet will be voluntary, which is what India said about its own digital ID scheme before government agencies began mandating it for certain services.

On February 29, the EU parliament adopted an updated regulation to the digital identity wallet, which European lawmakers assured would be used on a voluntary basis.

According to a EU press release, “The EU wallet will be used on a voluntary basis” while the “Updating the European digital identity frameworkbriefing adds that “The wallet is voluntary and free of charge for individuals, while businesses may incur costs. It does not replace existing identification and authentication means but complements them.”

However, with digital identity, they can say it’s voluntary, but without it, you might not be able to access goods and services, such as opening a bank account or collecting benefits, as was the case in India.

India’s digital identity scheme, Aadhaar, is a prime example of how the goal posts can shift over time.

Enrolment for Aadhaar is entirely voluntary,” reads a government press release from December, 2013.

However, that same year Forbes India reported, “Aadhaar was always voluntary. But over the last year, more and more states and government agencies were making its use mandatory for a host of services, from buying cooking gas to registering marriages and renting houses.”

Then in 2017, Reuters reported that between January and March, 2017, “Various ministries make Aadhaar mandatory for welfare, pension, and employment schemes. Aadhaar made mandatory for filing of income tax returns. Aadhaar holders crosses 1.14 billion.”

That same year, the Reserve Bank of India clarified that Aadhaar linking with bank accounts was mandatory, and if you visit the Aadhaar website in the “myth-busters” section, it will say, “It is mandatory to submit Aadhaar number to the banking service provider” for those wishing to receive certain benefits or subsidies.

In May of 2022, Business Today described how ubiquitous India’s digital identity scheme had become, stating, “Aadhaar has emerged as the national identity and a treated as a preferred/ mandatory identity proof for avail services such as obtaining a SIM card, hospitalization, opening a bank account or availing government subsidies and benefits of various government-run welfare schemes, even for the COVID-19 vaccination.”

For more than a decade, the story of Aadhaar has been filled with government overreach and courtroom battles to overturn said overreach.

Today, India’s digital identity has reached virtually its entire population — 1.4 billion people who “volunteered” to sign up for the scheme.

Will the EU follow India’s example once the digital identity wallets are launched?

The EU press release cited earlier says that “During negotiations, 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.”

Will they keep their word, even in times of crisis?

Image by natanaelginting on Freepik


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