When all is said and done, when the pandemic is over, when we emerge on the other side of this, it’s safe to say that who we are – no matter where we live – will have changed a bit.
So will the ways in which we prove we are who we say we are.
The conversation came against a backdrop where Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has been readying a biometric component for digital identities that, according to reports, will be ready for public testing by mid-year.
Drill down a bit, he said, and the “e-IDs” that governments are starting to issue, as have been seen in Australia, are serving as a springboard of sorts, gaining traction across a few use cases.
“And then,” Pointner told Webster, “you have the overarching, strategic developments of digital identities that can be interoperable.”
These are the digital ID systems and networks – which are the focus of companies including Jumio, though Pointner noted that his firm will indeed have a hand in helping to verify some of the government-issued digital IDs as they become available to the public – that go beyond borders, transcend discrete use cases and are industry-agnostic.
Thus far, said Pointner, despite regulations stating that the European countries making up the EU must have interoperability between each other (through the Electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services, or eIDAS), “it’s clunky and it’s difficult,” with friction especially becoming apparent as people and use cases cross borders.
Potential lies with the global consortium of passport-issuing agencies. As Pointner noted, “if they develop a funnel for digital passports, that will automatically ‘trickle down’ and be adopted by all of the different countries.” There are ways for digital versions of the passport to come to fruition and to market – including governments issuing them directly into what Pointner termed as “identity wallets.”
Once standards are in place for digital passports, he added, any number of companies and government agencies will have an interest in “converting plastic into zeros and ones” and taking drivers’ licenses and other documents into the digital age.
'Chicken And Egg' Challenge
There’s a "chicken and egg" problem in place when it comes to the digital passport, said Webster – you cannot utilize a digital passport unless there’s acceptance of a digital passport. The movement toward critical mass has prologue, said Pointner, as “biometric” passports – the paper kind that sport microprocessor chips that can be used to authenticate holders – have become widespread.
“They are not new iterations on the existing passport," he noted of the digital offerings. "It's the same passport, but in a different form." The paper/biometric passports can co-exist with digital ones. Where tangible passports are wielded by older travelers, digital versions would be embraced by younger individuals who are used to conducting daily life on their mobile devices.
Real IDs – those licenses, passports or military IDs that have special identifying marks – will smooth the road for digital ID adoption in the States. Pointner said that’s because the majority of individuals have those Real ID documents in hand.
“You have a plastic document that adheres to certain standards on which you can rely, that can be used as a baseline to create a digital identity,” he explained, because they contain a large amount of machine-readable information that can, in turn, be used by verification services.
Beyond the U.S., Pointner pointed to Australia’s efforts to solve the “chicken and egg” problem by creating enough utility in government services (such as at the post office) so that familiarity increases. There have already been roughly half a million downloads of the app, and though not all of them are going to be converted into permanent users, it’s a good starting point.
It’s important to note, too, that the authentication the Australian government is relying on comes through third-party biometrics screening – a one-to-one match that happens across the phone to authenticate a transaction – rather than device-based biometrics, which Pointner described as “inherently flawed and vulnerable.”
The dawn of a new decade, and the dawn of the coronavirus, may provide a tailwind and headwind toward digital ID (and verification) adoption, said Pointner, at least for a while. On one hand, more services and businesses will make a move to bring more activity online, as the limitations of brick and mortar become apparent. That translates into an increased focus on knowing who these firms are dealing with on the consumer side of the interaction.
For now, in crisis mode, these same firms will have to deploy resources (time, money and mindpower) toward other efforts. Government projects may be defunded.
But on a wider scale, change is inexorable. Wielding plastic IDs at checkout and at the airline gate, and swiping cards through readers, becomes all the more fraught as we confront a post-coronavirus world.
And, according to Pointner, “the topic of digital identity is really heating up. Where it was only news and concept just three months ago, now we’re seeing the first installments of a real-world application.”