Sweden running out of personal identity numbers

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Sweden's tax agency is running out of correct personal identity numbers, personnummer in Swedish, to assign newcomers to the country, the newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported this week.

Having a personal identity number facilitates a lot of things in Sweden, from renting or buying a home to opening a bank account to signing up for a gym membership. But immigration has caused a hiccup in the system.

In Sweden, personal identity numbers are based on the person's birthday (for the details, see page 10 on this webpage). The first six digits indicate the date the person was born, for example, the ID number for someone born on December 23, 1991, would begin with 91 (the year) 12 (the month) 23 (the day). Following that are four more digits, but they are not entirely random, so for each birthday, there are only 500 possible combinations for those digits (499 for females).

The Swedish Tax Agency has run out of personal ID numbers for several dates, and has started issuing numbers that do not exactly correspond to people's birthdays - 2,561 people have so far been issued such ID numbers, according to DN. While the problem is not entirely new – the tax agency first warned of it in 2007 – it has grown significantly in the last year.

The reason is because immigrants from certain regions where registration is not as developed, especially people who were born in the '60s or '70s, often choose dates around 1 January and 1 July as their birthdays. March 21 is also a common birthday choice for people from Afghanistan and Iran, because it is tied to the Persian New Year.

Ingegerd Widell, an expert at the tax agency, told Radio Sweden that so far, the agency has been handling the problem by turning to dates nearby, so for example, if all there are no more personal ID numbers left for January 1st, 1960, then they would assign January 2nd, and if there were no more for January 2nd, they would assign January 3rd, and so on.

"At the moment, we can handle this situation... but in this future, if this is escalating...then, we have to be prepared and think what to do if there are no more dates left within this month," Widell said, explaining that the law mandates a personal ID number must at least correspond to the month in which someone was born.

Having a personal ID number that does not exactly correspond to one's birthday can cause confusion, reports DN, when it comes to voting, being permitted to buy alcohol, and being allowed to begin driving.

Widell told DN that if Sweden were to re-think its system for issuing ID numbers, it would be better "without a doubt" to issue totally random numbers.