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The digital transformation of the German ID card

published on 23.09.2020

November 2010 marked the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the ID card. That was also when the ID card in credit-card format was fitted with the online ID function for the first time. Since then, quite a lot has happened. Here are some of the highlights of the past ten years.

Introduced in West Germany in 1951 as a small booklet with a dark grey cover, in the GDR two years later as a blue book: these documents were the two predecessors to today’s ID card in a divided Germany. But there was still a long way to go before the introduction of today’s ID card in 2010 which heralded a new chapter in the history of the ID card.

The all-German ID card

The ID card, which remained valid after reunification in 1990, had been issued for the first time three years earlier – on 1 April 1987 – and filled all-German wallets as a plastic-laminated card with a paper inlet.

Since November 2001, an Identigram®, a holographic security feature, has been used on the front of the ID card to provide even greater security.

The beginnings of the online ID card

Since 1 November 2010, the ID card has been available in credit-card format and with an RFID chip in which personal data and biometric data (photo and optionally two fingerprints) are stored and which enables the online ID function. Many new details have been added over the past ten years. Here are some of the highlights:

2011: AusweisApp

This free app is available for download to use the eID function of the new ID card, initially only for Windows, Vista and Linux. One year later, the online ID function is released for Mac OS X.

2012: Secure e‑mails with De‑Mail

E‑mails and documents are often sent unencrypted. But this means that third parties can read or manipulate them on their way through the Internet, unnoticed by either the sender or receiver. Recipients of unencrypted electronic messages can’t be sure that the message is really from the sender stated. With the introduction of De‑Mail, it became possible to encrypt e‑mail traffic. The online ID function is used to sign up to use this secure service.

2013: Keeping an eye on your data and the legally binding signature

Which data is stored on the chip of my ID card? Up to now, you had to go to the ID card issuing office to find out. Thanks to an amendment to the Ordinance on Identity Cards, holders of an online ID card can now check the data on their card both conveniently and securely from home using a PC. All the personal data stored on the chip that is read out when the online ID function is used is then displayed.

The online ID card also features a signature function which holders can use to generate a qualified electronic signature. Digital documents, such as e‑mails or PDF files, can then be signed and encrypted by the card holder in a legally binding manner.

2015: Two-factor authentication

Identity theft is one of the most common forms of cybercrime, which explains why secure electronic identities are becoming more and more important. Authentication using a username and password is certainly no longer safe enough. The highest level of trust is guaranteed by the online ID card function with two-factor authentication.

2017: 16 million users and AusweisApp

Anyone applying for a new ID card at the citizens’ office now receives an ID card with the online identification function automatically activated. The holder can subsequently have this deactivated on request. Previously, the card holder had to decide when collecting the card whether or not they wanted to activate the online ID function. The number of activated cards increased to 16 million that same year.

With the free app AusweiApp for Android, users with an NFC-enabled smartphone can use the online ID function directly on their mobile device without the need for any additional hardware or a card reader. Since the end of 2019, this has also been possible with iPhone 7 and higher. This makes identification on the Internet easier and, above all, more secure for almost all smartphone owners with an ID card. In addition to services, such as protected access to the pension account, registering for the electronic tax return or applying for an emissions sticker, a good few citizen services and a growing number of private‑sector offers can be used with the online ID card on an iPhone.

2019: AusweisIDent – fast and secure transfer of personal data

Whether it’s renting a car, opening a bank account or signing a mobile phone contract, companies and banks require the ID card data of their customers for business transactions. Up to now, this data has been entered manually into the computer system, which in turns leads to errors and slows down the identification process. Working with Governikus, Bundesdruckerei offers a new service: AusweisIDent. This enables data to be transferred to electronic forms without any media disruption. This service is much faster and costs less than previous online identification solutions, such as the POSTIDENT or Video-Ident methods. The online ID function does not have to be activated for this procedure, nor does the card holder need the corresponding PIN.

2020: The ID card with the online ID function

From 1 November 2020, the majority of valid ID cards will feature the online ID function. More than 60 million citizens today have an ID card in credit-card format. Around 30 million of them have the online ID function activated.

Small and medium-sized enterprises, solo self-employed persons and people working in the freelance professions as their main occupation as well as non-profit organizations can use the online ID function to apply to the federal government for corona assistance.

As part of a research project with Samsung Electronics, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and Deutsche Telekom, Bundesdruckerei is using mobile ID to bring the ID card onto selected Samsung smartphones. In future, citizens will be able to store their online ID card securely on their own mobile phones. After first-time registration, the ID card is transferred to a secure place in the device, the so-called Secure Element. This would make it possible, for example, to open an account directly using a smartphone. Other models, including those from Apple and Google, are set to follow.

2021: The online ID function on a smartphone

The days when many users had to entrust their personal data to international servers and platforms for lack of convenient alternatives are coming to an end. Thanks to the initiatives born out of the Federal Government’s ‘Digital Identities’ project, the state-approved online ID function can soon be stored on smartphones. All users now need is a smartphone to authenticate and identify themselves online with this smart eID.

Since September 2021, ID card holders can also derive a credential based on the online ID card function of the ID card and store it in the ID Wallet app, as a so-called basic ID. This basic ID is a credential provided by Bundesdruckerei GmbH that can be used to prove the owner’s identity online for so-called non-sovereign applications. What’s more, other digital credentials can be managed in the ID wallet if the use case has been specifically released for this purpose and is legally permitted. Since May 2021, for instance, the employees of participating companies on business trips have been able to check in online at hotels and also provide their employer’s billing address, making paper forms a thing of the past. From September 2021, it will also be possible to apply for a digital driving licence at the Federal Motor Transport Authority. 

The technological approach behind this basic ID is self‑sovereign identity, or SSI for short. With SSI technology, the data remains under the sole control of the user. The system relies on proven security mechanisms, especially two-factor authentication, already familiar from the world of banking. The PIN knowledge factor is directly linked to the smartphone ownership factor. 

Unfortunately, the ID Wallet app is currently not available. This means that it is no longer possible to issue the basic ID. The app provider is already working on a new release. As soon as the new version of the ID Wallet app is available in the App Store, the basic ID will be issued once again. Up-to-date information can be found on the Wallet operator’s website at