Deconstructing Denmark’s CPR System –Head of CPR Carsten Grage Explains the World’s First Big Data Project.
2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Denmark’s civil registration system, colloquially known by all Danes as CPR.
The registry system, which was first made for the purpose of tax administration, contains individual-level information on all persons residing in Denmark and enables linkage between all national registers related to health, education, social welfare and more. Around 5.8 million Danes are registered and most of the Danish population does not have an issue with it.
#DenmarkInNY spoke with Carsten Grage, Head of IT And CPR at the Danish Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Interior, about how CPR works, why Danes trust the government with their personal information, and how CPR has transformed Denmark into a world leader in clinical trials.
DKNY: What exactly is CPR and how important is it in the daily lives of ordinary Danes?
CG: CPR is a central registry containing information about the Danish population. In the registry, each citizen is identified by a unique civil registration number — also known as the CPR-number. The purpose of the CPR registry is to centralise information available to public authorities as well as to private companies. The information can be used to provide cost efficient and effective services to the Danish population.
DKNY: What kind of data does the CPR register and how comprehensive is the system?
CG: In the CPR registry, each person is registered with information of name, gender, date of birth, address, nationality, citizenship, civil status and family relations. In short, the registry contains non-sensitive data considered useful to a wide range of authorities and companies. The registry holds information of 10 million persons. Deceased persons remain registered. Around 5.8 million currently living persons are today registered with a Danish address in the CPR registry.
DKNY: As a tool, how helpful is the CPR registry to both the public and private sector?
CG: The registry helps Danish authorities deliver cost efficient and effective public services. Instead of asking a citizen applying for social benefits to present certain basic information necessary to evaluate the case, the authorities can simply access the information in the CPR by using the applicant’s CPR-number. This can be done manually, but in most cases, the process is automated, using system-to-system integration. The private sector typically uses the CPR registry to keep customer databases updated with current names and addresses, using CPR-numbers as unique identifiers.
Any change of information in the CPR registry is exported by data extracts every evening to a large number of it-systems, both in the public and private sector, making it possible for authorities and companies to provide relevant services to citizens and customers.
Thus, the CPR registry is considered to be an important part of Denmark’s digital infrastructure, and has contributed to the widespread digitization of the Danish society.
DKNY: Denmark has built a reputation as one of the best countries in the world in which to undertake clinical trials. What part has the CPR registry played in building this reputation?
CG: The CPR registry centralises basic information about the population gathered over the last 50 years, using CPR-numbers as identifiers. The same CPR-numbers are used as identifiers in all other public registries, also within the health sector. This provides a unique opportunity to undertake clinical trials, because information from different registries can be linked easily using the CPR-numbers.
DKNY: In which other areas is the CPR registry useful for the private and public sectors?
CG: One of the main reasons for building the CPR registry back in 1968 was the introduction of a new tax system in Denmark. Today, the registry continues to play an important role for the Danish Tax administration. Elections in Denmark — both national and local — also benefit from the CPR registry, as voter lists are created on the basis of the registry. Also the administration of NemID — a secure internet login system used for example for online banking and public service — uses the CPR registry.
DKNY: How do Danish values of trust and sense of community play into Danish society’s acceptance of CPR as a beneficial tool?
CG: I believe the CPR registry is widely acknowledged by the population as a well-functioning system, and a necessary tool for authorities to provide social welfare services. The fact that Denmark is amongst the least corrupt countries in the world, and the fact that Danes traditionally trust the state, plays a role. Finally, I believe the fact that the CPR registry does not contain highly sensitive information also contributes to the population’s approval of the system.
DKNY: What kind of touch-points of a person’s life are picked up by the CPR system?
CG: Basically, people are registered in the CPR registry on grounds of birth or relocation from abroad. Minutes after a child is born, the hospital will register the birth in the CPR-system by entering the date of birth, gender and the CPR-number of the mother. The system automatically registers the child with the same address as the mother. If the mother is married, her husband is automatically registered as the father of the child in accordance with the law. At the same time, the system automatically registers information of holders of custody and nationality of the child. Biometrics and health information is not a part of the CPR registry.
Danes will experience that his or her data in the registry will be updated in connection with changes in name, address, civil status and parenthood.
DKNY: Which systems are in place to protect Danish citizens’ privacy?
CG: Privacy in regard to the CPR registry is protected by a number of measures. Both specific regulation regarding the CPR, and general regulation regarding processing of data, has been passed by Parliament. Access to the CPR registry must always be approved by the Ministry of the Interior, and companies and authorities must comply with special terms set out by the ministry. Failure to comply may be penalised.
Pernille Kjær Ramsdahl is the Press, Culture and Public Diplomacy Intern at DenmarkInNY.