Presentation of the ICCS Platform for the international communication of civil-status data by electronic means

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1 Presentation of the ICCS Platform for the international communication of civil-status data by electronic means Introduction The International Commission on Civil Status (ICCS) is an international intergovernmental organisation that has tried, for the last 60 years, to handle very concrete problems concerning the personal status of persons in cross-border situations, and to implement solutions facilitating the circulation of civil-status documents as much for citizens as for its member States. To this end, the ICCS has drawn up a number of international instruments regulating the international exchange of civil-status data using standardised documents that are accepted within the territory of each contracting State without translation or legalisation or any equivalent formality. Taken as a whole, these instruments form a cohesive body of work, and the ICCS Platform is the logical next step of this process. 1. The «ICCS Platform» in the context of the ICCS s work 1.1 Recognition and comprehension of documents : standardised multilingual forms. The ICCS drew up its first convention in 1956, having observed that, if people have to circulate beyond borders, then decisions and records concerning them need to circulate also. Very concretely, this means that these decisions and records need to be recognised abroad, and that they have to be legible and understandable to the authorities of the foreign country where they will be produced. The solution implemented by the ICCS consisted in preparing international documents established on the basis of standard multilingual forms exempt from legalisation. A system of pre-printed translations and numbered boxes on the front and back of the form enables foreign authorities to read and understand the document directly. Thus, Convention 1 and the next conventions clearly made life easier for civil-status practitioners and, consequently, for citizens. It is the success of multilingual forms that brought about the next solution. 1.2 Replacement of the multilingual system by a coding system. When the languages to include in multilingual forms became too numerous, the ICCS came up with the new coding system. Established by Convention No.25 of 1995, the principle of coding is that pre-printed translations can be replaced with a code number assigned to each term, all terms being grouped into a multilingual dictionary. For example, the term Nom is coded 7 and the term Date de naissance is coded 8.2. So, in an international document established in Spain, in Italy, in Poland or in the United Kingdom, number 7 will be followed by the translations Apellidos, Cognome, Nazwisko or Surname, and number 8.2 will be followed by the translations Fecha de nacimiento, Data di nascita, Data urodzenia or Date of birth. Coding allows international and national documents to be read and used abroad, and the list of coded terms constitutes a terminological database. Since 1995, this database has grown from around 200 terms to approximately Coding solves the problem of translation and eases the transition to the use of new technologies. 1.3 Specific legal framework for electronic exchanges. On 17 September 2001 in Athens, the ICCS opened Convention No.30 on the international communication by electronic means to signature, establishing a legal basis for the international exchange of civil-status data by electronic means. This instrument was signed by six States, but could not be ratified, for lack of technical means to implement it. The object of the ICCS Platform is to provide the tool, but on the request of certain 1

2 member States, the ICCS also prepared a specific convention for the use of the Platform, in particular establishing the legal value of data transmitted via electronic means in accordance with European legislation applicable to data protection (notably, through the use of electronic signatures). Convention 33 was signed at Rome on 19 September ICCS Platform. The object of the Platform is to provide a tool allowing States to fulfil their international obligations using new technologies. The Platform s primary use is the application of instruments that the States drew up and ratified at a time when computerisation did not have the impact it currently has, but the use of the Platform can be extended to States beyond the ICCS (both in Europe and elsewhere in the world), and to exchanges carried out on the basis of bilateral agreements. To use the Platform, a State has to sign Convention 33 and fulfil its requirements. To provide States with a secure tool that guarantees the integrity of the data transmitted, for the international exchange of civil-status data and documents by electronic means, the Platform had to take into account very diverse specific situations, mainly related to the organisation of the States various civil-status systems and to varying degrees of computerisation: - certain States have practically non-existent electronic infrastructures where civil-status is concerned, whereas others have operational centralised systems ; among the latter, some decided to maintain the obligation to keep paper registers, whereas others have decided to keep (and in some cases update) only electronic registers; - certain States, though they have put in place an appropriate legal framework, do not yet have a national computerised civil-status system allowing them to implement it ; - others do not have a specific national model for electronic registration of civil status, but their municipal departments, using software that differs from town to town, have locally implemented computerised systems, and are still obliged to keep their paper registers (in 1 or 2 copies), these latter having legal value. Cofinanced by the European Commission (JLS/2009/JCIV/AG/ CE /00-43), the ICCS Platform was built over a period of two years. Work began in November 2010, with the pilot phases taking place in Spring The ICCS Platform is designed to be a real production system for participating States. - It will have a major impact on its numerous potential beneficiaries : the general public (whether nationals of participating States or residents), States, ministerial departments, municipalities, civil registrars, jurisdictions and lawyers. - Providing a multilingual interface and forms established according to ICCS Conventions (for instance, birth, marriage and death record extracts and the certificate of legal capacity to marry), it will simplify the sending and delivery of documents for civil registrars, who will be able to fill out forms easily, in their own language, also having access to a virtual keyboard providing letters specific to other languages. - It will make it easier for citizens to prove their personal and family status and, thus, circulate freely, as well as making international requests for civil-status data simpler to carry out and accelerating the exchange of information. - It will considerably shorten the time frame for issuing civil-status documents to individuals and for registering foreign events and decisions in civil-status registers (shortening the time frame to days rather than months). - By enabling documents to circulate in a secure manner, the Platform will also help to combat the increasingly common problem of civil-status document fraud. 2

3 2. Technical aspects of the ICCS Platform 2.1 Project management To guarantee the compliance of technical and legal developments, the ICCS appointed a technical committee (made up of representatives from ICCS national Sections) and a technical committee (made up of IT experts designated by member States). The experts group worked under the direction of the technical project manager. Following an international call for offers, a subcontractor was selected to build the Platform (contract signed with the Greek company UBITECH on 13 December 2010) Design and development The project identified and implemented five major design principles for the system: - It should be assembled using existing Open Source components. - Processes should be designed for the lowest operating costs possible. - It should be designed for use with various types of digital certificates. - It should be simple to use and self-explanatory, to avoid high training costs. - Its use should require only an internet connection, a web browser and Acrobat Reader. To ensure the international exchange of civil-status data and to use the Platform, - civil-status authorities should be registered in an international directory of civil-status authorities; - civil-status authorities should be registered to obtain certificates and signatures to participate in electronic data exchange; - the data to be exchanged should be structured using XML and the presentation of the data should be standardised and multilingual; - the pilot should be disseminated in different countries System analysis The Platform was designed for the secure exchange of data among civil registrars in different countries, on the basis of the aforementioned criteria, ensuring the protection of the transmitted data. The diagram on the next page shows the implemented infrastructure. - The infrastructure is a workflow-based exchange and delivery mechanism for the creation, storage, rendering, routing, delivery, processing, and monitoring of civil-status-related data, application requests, and documents. Thus, it allows the registered end users (i.e. registrars) to: a) create a task by simply selecting the desired civil-status document type and completing the corresponding multilingual web form, b) automatically generate the filled-in civil-status documents in PDF format (with multilingual labels), c) trigger the document-signing process with the user s digital (hardware token) certificate, d) trigger the document-encryption process, e) manage and monitor the tasks. 3

4 4

5 - The Platform provides a set of tools enabling the Country Managers to keep up-to-date the information relevant for his/her country (manage the end-users accounts and their digital certificates, manage information relating to the hierarchy of civil-status authorities and the routing table, manage the translations). The tools developed are: a) the User Accounts Directory, containing detailed information regarding the end-users accounts and profiles, the country managers, the civil registration services, the head of the offices and the registrars directors and clerks. This directory also stores the public keys of the users digital certificates in their accounts, so that other users and software components may search and discover the appropriate public key (bundled with a user identity) for identification and authentication purposes; b) the Civil-Status Authorities Directory, containing the complete list and hierarchy of the civil-status authorities participating in the system (i.e. countries, municipalities, and offices), as well as the types of messages that a civil registry office may send and receive. This directory also acts as a centralised routing table, facilitating the appropriate routing and delivery of civil-status messages taking into account the ICCS conventions that are in effect between the relevant States. Model used to define the hierarchy of regions, municipalities and registry offices : c) the Civil-Status Applications XSD Models and Forms Repository, containing the full set of standardised templates for ICCS forms to be issued by and/or exchanged between relevant national authorities, in electronic and machine-interpretable format; d) the translation tool, containing all the terms and elements appearing throughout the Platform interface, including both the administrative applications and the exchange environment. 5

6 - A centralised public key security infrastructure (PKI) provides mechanisms for the creation, distribution, usage, storage, and revocation of digital certificates (based on pairs of public and private keys) for all registered end users and stakeholders. Thus, end users are provided with: a) a secure single sign-on authentication utility for identifying themselves clearly using their individual digital certificates, preventing identity fraud; b) the capacity to sign the data, requests and documents created using their individual digital certificates, allowing the recipient of the information to identify the creator/sender in a secure manner that ensures data integrity and non-repudiation; c) the ability to encrypt the requests and documents created using the public key of their potential recipient (applying asymmetric encryption techniques), allowing only the appropriate recipient, who owns the matching private key (of the public-private pair), to access and decrypt the information delivered. d) end-to-end HTTPS-based encrypted communication and secure transactions via the ICCS Data Exchange Platform. Conclusion An easy-to-use tool Both the data-exchange environment and the back office tools should seem relatively familiar and intuitive to anyone who uses a computer in an office environment on a daily basis, or who has ever filled out any form online or used web-based applications for example. The availability of training materials and a user manual should also contribute to minimising the training requirements of the Platform, both in terms of time and in terms of money. Increasing the accuracy of transmitted data The user-friendliness also has the advantage of increasing accuracy and trustworthiness of the data exchanged. Functionalities such as the virtual keyboard ensure that registrars can spell names correctly, helping to avoid errors in the names of people or places. The demarcation tool also ensures that, for instance, places of birth are correctly spelled at least for States participating in the Platform, as there is the option to complete by typing or by selecting from a drop-down list. These are just some examples of the advantages of having a standardised centrally-produced and ICCS-approved interface that only allows the user to fill out forms in very specific ways, attracting his attention to possible errors or omissions, making documents issued or exchanged via the Platform resistant to human error. Helping to prevent fraud Forms issued via the Platform are also more tamper-proof and protected against fraud. It is virtually impossible for documents to be tampered with during the exchange procedure, they are not stored on the Platform : they are encrypted by the sender, only to be decrypted by the recipient, and no one else can access them. Documents and data are issued from a central repository of standard forms, with a specific appearance and set fields, so it will be easy to spot any tampering after the form has been issued. Transmission of civil-status data and documents directly from authority to authority will also reduce the possibility of using fraudulent civilstatus documents for the issue of travel and identity documents. 6

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