Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is personal view of Spain and Spanish life as seen by a Briton living in a small village in Alicante province.
The other tabs link to similar blogs when I have lived in other places. The TIM magazine is an English language magazine I write articles for.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Digital certificates

The normal way to do something official, like change the address on your driving licence or pay your water bill here in Spain is to go and stand in a long queue, usually the wrong queue, and wait to be turned down because you lack an essential bit of paper such as your mother's birth certificate.

Things change though and Spaniards increasingly use the Internet to get official jobs done. Most government type websites require that users have some sort of digital certificate. Now, to be honest I don't really know what a digital certificate/signature is and I can't raise the enthusiasm to find out from Wikipedia. I think that it's a bit of code that websites swop with individual computers, a bit like a blind date, if the two click then splendid but, if not, no more conversations.

For lots of Spaniards this digital identity business is dead easy because their ID cards now carry a chip - bung the card in a card reader and you're in business. For we foreigners it's a bit more complicated. The usual form is that you go to some issuing body, prove that you're who you say you are and they then provide you with a system for getting the code onto your computer. When I did it the first time, a couple of years ago with the local tax collection agency they gave me a floppy disc. This week my bank just gave me a couple of passwords and a website address. Neither of the certificates worked though.

Official Spanish websites often provoke one of the various "Whoaa, careful!" warnings depending on which browser I'm using. They say something like  - this site has not returned the sort of certificate we expected, it's probably a fraud, if I were you I'd abandon the computer and go and get a cup of tea.

It only struck me this morning that probably the two things, faliure of the certificates and the security warnings, are related. I wonder if Spanish websites are built differently to everyone elses?

It's good to know that Spain is modernising her traditions. Once upon a time it was the chain smoking clerk who sent you away for having the wrong certificate now it's some jumped up little algorithm.


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