Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Ghost in the Machine

One of the first things anyone moving to Spain, or intending to do something like buy a house here, needs to do is to get an NIE. An NIE is the official ID for we foreigners - the initials translate as foreigner's identification number. NIEs come from the National Police and, whilst it seemed like a major hassle at the time, it's actually a dead easy process to get one.

Spanish society is pretty keen on identity.  I bought some tickets online for a theatre piece the other day - there are no tickets - I just have to show my ID when I get there on the night. Buy a train ticket, query a bill, buy a new phone, do almost anything in the least official and you will need to show your ID. It's a legal requirement to carry official ID when you are out and about.

The ID document for Spaniards is the DNI. Nowadays it's credit sized card and it has an electronic chip built into it. Amongst other things that means that Spaniards can identify themselves online via a card reader. My ID is a bit of folded paper. My Spanish driving licence uses the NIE number so, nowadays, I generally use that as my official ID. Nonetheless, every now and again some petty official asks for the folded piece of paper and then I have to show my official ID, my passport, to verify that the person named on the piece of paper looks like me. My NIE has no photo. My driving licence has no chip.

To prove who I am online I need a digital certificate or a digital signature. It's not difficult to get one. The people who make the coins and banknotes provide one for ordinary people as do most of the regional governments. Professional and private bodies also produce similar documentation either as a service to their members or at a cost.

I don't quite know how the certificates work but I presume that it's some bit of code that lodges in the computer and tells whichever website you are talking to that the certificate ties in with your claimed identity.

I've had five of these digital signatures now since I've been here. I need a new one each time I get a new computer. I got one from a bank that never worked. The others I've got from three or four different offices but they have all been supplied by the Autonomous Government of Valencia, the region where I live. The first one I got was a right pig to install. It would only work on certain versions of certain browsers but over time the process has improved.

To get the digital certificate I went to an office in Elda, about 25kms away. I showed my driving licence, gave them my email address and signed about four sheets of paper. I had to go between 8.30 and 10am but, that aside, the process was painless enough. The website, to install the certificate on my computer by registering the code I'd got from Elda, was working. In fact installing the new certificate was as easy as pie. It worked as it should. It worked with Chrome and, being that way inclined, I checked it on Mozilla and Edge and it works with them too. Yesterday I applied for a renewal of my European Health Card and that government website worked too. The last time I tried to get a health card online the process was a right royal pain but this time it took moments. That didn't use to be the case. It makes life easier when a website does what it says on the tin.

I see on the news that the UK (maybe that should be England and Wales considering the little problems in Scotland and Northern Ireland at the moment) triggered article 50 today to set about leaving the EU. Who knows, when I'm no longer an EU citizen with all the rights that has brought me in Spain, maybe I'll at least get a proper plastic NIE card!

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