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The Porvoo Group: promoting eID interoperbility

eID technology interoperability
    The importance of interoperability for electronic identities is becoming more central as European integration deepens. There are more opportunities than ever for cross-border living and working and it is vital that there are opportunities for debate on eID between governments and for exchange between the private and public sectors. At the same time, learning about good practice from outside Europe can deepen understanding of the eID challenges facing Europe. One forum for discussion and exchange of good practice in eID, helping to inform the European perspective, is the Porvoo Group.

Established in the Finnish town of Porvoo, the Group was initially an initiative of the eEurope Smart Card Charter, a project launched in 1999 by the European Commission to examine interoperability and security questions in relation to smart cards, and the Finnish Population Register Centre, which continues to provide the permanent secretariat for the Porvoo Group. The aim of the Group is to be a pro-active European-level electronic identity interest group, and to provide relevant contributions to informed public debate about eID questions.

The Porvoo Group meets twice a year with the most recent meeting – known as Porvoo 7 – taking place in Reykjavik, Iceland, on 26 and 27 May 2005. The seminar brought together government, private sector and European Commission representatives and included presentations on the Icelandic eID and PKI experience; the US Government Smart Card Program and Personal Identity Verification card; the Japanese Resident Registration Card, which is being developed as an eGovernment authentication tool as there is no national identity card in Japan. The meeting also reviewed the state of play within the EU, with country updates from Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK.

IDABC contributed to the meeting with a presentation on the status of the IDABC Bridge/Gateway CA Pilot Project. Technical aspects and current results of the project were also presented, including interoperability tests with the Belgian eID card.

Legal aspects, meanwhile, were not overlooked. Tapio Aaltonen of the Finnish Population Register Centre presented a report on European crossborder legislative eID environment. The European Commission is working on legal questions through several initiatives, such as a study on identity management in eGovernment being conducted under the Directorate-General for Information Society’s Modinis programme (1), and Porvoo 7 adopted a suggestion to feed its report into the Commission relevant expert working groups.

The Porvoo Group meetings are proving increasingly popular for representatives of administrations. Porvoo 7 was attended by the Belgian and Spanish Ministries of the Interior, the Austrian Chief Information Office, Greece’s Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, Hungary’s Ministry of Informatics and Communications, the UK Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and a number of other ministries and departments from across Europe dealing with eID matters. Following each meeting, the Porvoo Group issues a communiqué, consisting of a summary of the issues discussed and the resolutions passed, concerning issues such as on-going Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) projects, standardisation, biometrics and relevant European level legislation.

Prior to the Rejkjavik meeting, Porvoo 6 took place in November 2004 in Rome, where representatives from around 20 countries met. Resolutions arising from themeeting included a strong expression of support for positive horizontal co-operation in establishing and maintaining real interoperability between certification authorities, and for the inclusion of interoperability aspects in international standards in the smart card, certification infrastructure, and biometric domains. A resolution was also passed calling on major PC manufacturers to incorporate standardised features in smart card readers.

Another resolution concerned use of fingerprint biometrics in passports and eID cards. The Group noted that there was an immediate need for an international standard template for fingerprint minutiae. At Porvoo 7, the Group noted that in respect of biometrics, a number of important initiatives are currently underway or are due to deliver outcomes in the near future, in particular, the development of a new EU multi-annual programme called The Hague Programme; strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union.

This programme originated under the Dutch Presidency of the European Council in late 2004. It calls on the Council and European Commission to develop minimum security standards for eID cards including biometrics. In respect of these emerging developments, a plenary session at Porvoo 7 on the application of biometrics in eID noted that a number of countries plan to set up national biometric databases to support their ePassport schemes, and this will have an impact on the limiting of verifi cation of biometrics to on-card matching. Actions relating to biometric passports will have a major impact on eID card schemes, and the Porvoo Group has resolved to discuss this developing issue further at its next meeting.

(1) For more information on this, see the article ‘Identity management advances on multiple fronts’.

For more information:

The Porvoo Group
The Hague Programme


Article published in Synergy 03 - July 2005