Scan and deliver: the case for a universal digital ID
September 2022 by Vince Graziani, CEO, IDEX Biometrics ASA
By now, consumers are familiar with using biometrics to open their phones, approve payments and access products and shops. But what about using our biometrics for other services including public, such as digital ID, healthcare access or welfare support?
During the pandemic, citizens around the world turned to digital channels to access public services, pushing governments to prioritise digital transformation to continue providing access to essential services. As a result, world governments are exploring biometric solutions to deliver digital identity in secure and seamless ways.
In the UK, the Home Office recently announced that biometric self-enrolment technologies have promise for immigration services. As a result they are conducting registration trials of fingerprint and face scans. Meanwhile The Bahamas Ministry of Economic Affairs held a workshop to kickstart engagement of public and private sectors for a National Digital Identification System backed by biometrics.
Global governments have already started to embrace the benefits of biometric security to manage national identity schemes and public services on a vast scale. Speaking at ID4Africa 2022, Nigeria’s minister of Communication and Digital Economy laid out his nation’s plans for a biometric digital identity database that will be the basis for strategic planning in education, healthcare, agriculture and even national security.
Meanwhile, India’s Aadhaar programme is possibly the most advanced biometric population database in the world, with more than 1.17 billion citizens registered through fingerprint and iris data. This system has allowed the Indian government to streamline delivery of welfare packages by providing accurate population data and confidence to authenticate the population.
Connecting the hyperconnected
Citizens today are hyperconnected and demand the convenience that comes with digitisation. Globally, 32% rank increased use of digital technologies when delivering public services as a top three priority for governments to improve the quality of service.
However, there is still a lack of trust in many national governments which needs to be addressed. Trust in this institution ranges from only 27% in the UK, 26% in the US and 29% in France, to 63% in India. This has curbed projects like the UK’s plan to introduce a health passport, which was suspended after more than one million people opted out due to fears about data vulnerability. Public anxiety about the security of personal data has been stoked by events like the hacking of Finland and Norway’s online servers in 2020 and the over 68 million victims of data breaches in 2021.
But this will only be achieved with a secure and multipurpose digital identity that can optimise user experience whilst ensuring safety. So how can global governments deliver trust to their populations and embrace a digital identity to streamline and improve service delivery to their citizens?
What is digital identity and why do we need it now?
Digital identity is a collage of verified data about you. It consists of the things you are – biometric data from fingerprint, face or voice; things you know – name, date of birth and address; things you have – passport, social security number or qualifications; and dynamic data – such as financial, retail or mobile interactions. This puts security directly back into the hands of the user as they become their own authentication and garners the confidence needed to make digital identity commonplace.
While the Aadhaar programme’s biometric identity smart card illustrates many of the benefits of using fingerprint or face authentication to verify identity, it has also been challenged by its use of a centralised database. This is problematic because of the risks associated with storing data in a central cloud, it can however be avoided by linking the user to the card through a decentralised platform, which in turn establishes confidence and trust for all parties involved.
Citizen and consumer expectations for such security measures are growing, as is the global regulatory scrutiny. In March 2022, the long-awaited European regulations surrounding Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) came into effect, requiring that payment providers, retailers, financial institutions and service providers all use multifactor authentication to validate identities for all transactions, in a bid to protect consumers whilst minimising economic disruptions.
These regulatory trends, along with growing awareness and consumer demands are contributing to the expanding total addressable market for digital identity to US$266.5 billion by 2027.
Why isn’t digital identity used globally?
For digital identity to become a global solution, challenges regarding cross-border interoperability and system computability need to be addressed. This will require a decentralised identity programme rather than one where all digital elements are stored in a shared national or corporate cloud database.
A decentralised identity card empowers the user to be in control of their own identity. It is a privacy-driven approach, wherein the user owns, manages and controls their private, sensitive information. Users can then choose to interact with participating organisations around the globe through a variety of devices.
The amount of personal information being shared online is increasing exponentially, leaving citizens vulnerable. Without measures like a decentralised biometric digital identity, we will continue to leave citizens and valuable government resources at risk. In the US, for example, their $400 billion Covid Economic Injury Disaster Loan program lost between $80 and $100 billion to fraudulent claims, and the proportion of that attributed to fraudulent identification schemes is likely to be high.
A versatile, flexible and necessary solution
By using biometric government IDs, the public sector can deliver better quality services faster, more securely and at lower costs. Pakistan recently gave over one million Afghan refugees government ID cards with embedded biometrics so that they could more easily access public services, including those related to education, health and finances. The cards are integrated with all Pakistan systems, providing a seamless and secure process.
In an increasingly digital world, a privacy-driven digital approach is critical. Citizens deserve and are demanding more control over their personal information. Digital ID offers that control and flexibility.. When delivering government services, it is essential to combine a high level of security with a seamless user experience to ensure widespread adoption.
Fingerprint biometric smart cards are ideal for servicing these needs as they meet all the above requirements and are already used by millions around the world through smartphones. Mass adoption of biometric smart cards is critical to making digital ID a global solution, empowering governments and corporations to deliver vital services securely and conveniently to consumers.