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(The Sociable) — Ahead of last’s weeks vote on an update to the European digital identity framework, a small number of MEPs spoke out against the adoption of an EU-wide digital identity wallet, calling it an insult to democracy that was creating a QR code society and leading to a Chinese-style system of social credit.

The updated regulation was adopted last Thursday, with a majority of MEPs welcoming the European digital identity wallet as being a safe, secure, and convenient digital tool for all European Union members.

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However, there was a small handful of MEPs who warned in the debate that the digital identity agenda came about in an undemocratic way, that it was vulnerable to corrupt governments, and that it could create an Orwellian model of society.

Belgian MEP Gerolf Annemans warned that the EU digital identity wallet could become a prison or a leash to control all of society:

Mr. President, colleagues, today we are at a crossroads. We have to make a decision that will have profound consequences for the freedoms of European citizens and for their privacy in the future.

The legislation proposed here on a digital identity for the entire European Union conceals a dangerous, even sinister agenda.

The idea of a digital wallet essentially puts the finishing touches on a path that will lead us to the total control of society. Whether it’s Big Brother or Brave New World: I’ll leave it open. It is a European Union in which every transaction, every movement, every interaction is recorded. A continent where citizens’ freedoms can be made dependent on a digital green light. This will not be a comfort, but a leash. Not a wallet, but a prison.

Privacy experts have been sounding the alarm and warning since this proposal emerged. Because how voluntary is a system that can centrally enforce compliance with rules by allowing access to essential services and therefore ipso facto also not allowing it? From here the European Union can become an all-encompassing and perpetual QR code society.

I therefore call on my colleagues to err on the side of caution and reject this gateway to a Chinese-style social credit system.

The choice before us is clear: embrace a future of surveillance and control, or uphold the principles of freedom and autonomy that define our democratic society. [Emphases added]

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French MEP Virginie Joron said that the digital identity wallet could further “an authoritarian drift” like we saw during lockdowns, and that the system could also lead to a QR code society like the Chinese system of social credit:

Madam President, Commissioner, dear colleagues, you wanted to inscribe the QR Code in the bodies of our fellow citizens. No transport, no medical care, no nightclubs, standing, sitting, lying down or dynamic beach cafes. July 12, 2021 will remain a dark day for France for our freedoms.

This temptation of the QR Code and Chinese-style social credit, some people dream of it here. The temptation to deprive freedoms and access to public services and healthcare, the temptation to identify obedient citizens and punish deviant citizens by blocking their bank accounts, as in Canada, China or Italy.

Obviously, we know the facilities of digital technology, and I would have no fear in a state that respects democracy. But with COVID we have experienced an authoritarian drift towards beliefs that have proven to be erroneous.

Yes, digital identity can lead us towards another model of society. And I will end with this passage from George Orwell, in his book ‘1984,’ which predicted total surveillance by Big Brother cameras: ‘Winston could still decipher on the facade the artistic inscription of the three slogans of the Party: WAR IS PEACE / FREEDOM IS SLAVERY / IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.’

Welcome to 2024! [Emphases added]

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Dutch MEP Michiel Hoogeveen said that the way digital identity came about was “an insult to democracy” because Dutch voters had already rejected the digital identity scheme, but that the secretary of state for digitalization went ahead and agreed to it anyway:

How the European digital identity came about is an insult to democracy.

A motion was adopted by a majority in the Dutch parliament in December 2022, calling on State Secretary for Digitalization Van Huffelen not to agree to the Council conclusions on the European digital identity. This entails serious risks, such as the central storage of data and unsafe techniques. Van Huffelen ignored this and voted in favor anyway.

The Dutch cabinet has therefore agreed to a European law to which the House of Representatives explicitly said no.

If national parliaments are ignored in the EU, why are they even there? The people who have to decide on this are the Dutch voters through our democratic mechanisms and procedures.

If we are not willing to do that, we might as well close our national parliaments immediately and turn them into a museum. [Emphases added]

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And rounding off the dissenting voices is Swedish MEP Johan Nissinen who said that digital identity sounded too good to be true due to corruption in some member states:

Madam Speaker! Surely it sounds fantastic that we should be able to show our identity and share electronic documents within the EU through a European digital wallet.

Of course, it sounds too good to be true. It carries serious risks that cannot be ignored.

Corruption problems in some member states are particularly worryingCan we trust that these are competent and respect the ethical handling of these sensitive data, as, for example, Sweden does? No, unfortunately I don’t think so. It is extremely questionable and raises suspicions of abuse and inappropriate supervision.

In particular, our citizens put security and privacy at risk. This is something we must consider before adopting a proposal like this. As long as we have corrupt states within the union, we risk the safety of citizens. [Emphases added]

Editor’s note: The Sociable has provided two translations for each of the MEPs’ statements – the official real-time audio translations heard in the videos and the translations of the written texts using Google Translate that were published on the EU Parliament website. You can click on the MEPs’ names to see the written versions in their original languages.

Reprinted with permission from The Sociable.

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