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Netherlands to catalogue its population under 'citizen service number' scheme
Dutch citizens and residents could be issued a national personal identification number by 2006 under which their personal details will be stored centrally and subsequently accessed by all central, provincial and local-government authorities - from hospitals to schools.
Introduced by Thom de Graaf, Dutch minister for government reform and kingdom relations, and approved by the cabinet several weeks ago, this proposal - with its possible Big Brother ramifications that would normally have provoked protests from privacy activists - has been passed largely unnoticed and without significant protest.
The new personal identification code will replace the so-called social and tax identification (SOFI) number with the innocuous-sounding "citizen service number" or BSN.
Notably, when the SOFI-number was originally approved by the Dutch parliament decades ago, the government of the day had to move heaven and earth to allay fears of misuse. Reassurances in the form of legal guarantees had to be given that the SOFI-number would not be used "universally", but restricted to tax and social-services administration.
The role of the SOFI-number was first broadened by the cabinet - in relative secrecy - in 2001, for use by several ministries, government authorities, insurance companies and pension funds.
Now, the new BSN could be another step towards broader and more intrusive measures in the Netherlands.
Once the fine print is read, it quickly becomes apparent that the minister has bigger things in store for the BSN. Although the SOFI-number will lose its name, the new BSN, content-wise, will be identical to its defunct cousin, digit for digit. In addition to its generic name, the BSN will also take on an application name - such as healthcare or education number, depending on whether it refers to a patient or student.
Furthermore, minister De Graaf is proposing secure electronic communications between the government and its citizens or businesses, where personal identification is said to be central. To make this possible, an authentication procedure should be in place this year.
This is just the first stage of a full-blown infrastructure for electronic security and identification, in which the BSN (electronic identification), digital signature and PKI encryption technology will play major roles, according to the minister. This also means that businesses will be able to store and access information - based on BSN - in databases.