Belgium prepares for vaccine mandates with digital ID wallet

Belgium this month launched, a digital ID wallet designed to store official documents such as proof of vaccination.

A digital ID wallet intended for vaccine passports

The application went live on May 14th and is free to use for all Belgians. Taxpayers can use the app to house their government documents and to access government services, such as a reportedly secure electronic mailbox created by the federal government. 

This first version of the digital wallet can only store limited documents, a vaccination certificate being one of them. Others include identity data such as birth and marriage certificates. By next year, the wallet will be updated to also store digital driver’s licenses as well as “other vaccination data” to comply with vaccine mandates.

“Other vaccination data will also be added, which can be used when travelling to countries with mandatory vaccination,” reported The Brussels Times.

Belgians not enthusiastic about digital ID

The app is currently optional for Belgians, 71% of whom do not want a digital ID wallet on their phones. According to a Deloitte survey, half of Belgians refuse to fully digitize their identification documents, and 79% do not want digital driver’s licenses.

But the Belgian government is nevertheless excited about the digital ID wallet.

"It marks the first step towards a comprehensive app for interaction between government and all Belgians," said Secretary of State for Digitalisation Mathieu Michel when he announced the launch this month.

All EU countries are required to roll out digital ID wallets

The launch makes Belgium one of the first countries to comply with new European Commission regulations that require all EU countries to offer a digital ID wallet by 2026.

According to the new rules that took effect last week, EU governments must roll out digital wallets that conform to the European Union Digital Identity (EUDI) wallet specifications. This includes the ability to store a taxpayer’s identity papers such as driver’s license, health insurance card, diplomas and other documents. 

How will the wallet be used?

The EUDI will be used to access public and private services. Uses include making payments, opening a bank account, getting prescriptions, signing contracts, traveling, accessing government services, receiving social security benefits, logging into social media accounts, and others. 

“It can also be used to facilitate the freedom of movement by storing documents such as the European Health Insurance Card,” the European Commission (EC) explained on its website.

Critics raise concerns about the wallet

The EUDI wallet’s main selling point is that users will be able to share only the details necessary to authenticate themselves for a given service. All other personal information will remain hidden. The EC expects this will satisfy widespread privacy concerns.

But doubts about the wallet still remain. The main worry is that while users only share those details that are necessary, the government can decide at any point which information is “necessary” to share. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the European Commission made proof of vaccination necessary to access services and establishments. Prior to that, each taxpayer’s health information was considered confidential.

Is the EUDI a precursor to global vaccine passports?

The digital ID wallet is seen as a stepping stone to a global vaccination certificate. 

In June last year, the World Health Organization announced the launch of its “digital health partnership” with the European Commission that will involve the development of global vaccine passports among other “digital products to deliver better health for all.”

According to the WHO, the passport system will allow “global mobility” and protect people not only from “future health threats” but from those that are “on-going."

“In June 2023, the WHO will take up the European Union (EU) system of digital COVID-19 certification to establish a global system that will help facilitate global mobility and protect citizens across the world from on-going and future health threats, including pandemics,” announced the WHO in a statement.

The organization clarified that this will likely include a global vaccine passport, much like many western countries used during the COVID-19 pandemic:

This partnership will work to technically develop the WHO system with a staged approach to cover additional use cases, which may include, for example, the digitisation of the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis. Expanding such digital solutions will be essential to deliver better health for citizens across the globe.

As a “first step”, the WHO and European Commission will “ensure that the current EU digital certificates continue to function effectively.”