It’s ID Evolution Month at FindBiometrics, delivering exclusive feature articles on the state of the art in digital identity. So far, our coverage has been a bit selfie-centric: We kicked things off with a look at how selfie-based authentication attained its current level of prominence, and proceeded to detail some of the more cutting-edge technologies associated with selfie authentication.
Now, we’re going to take a broader look at digital ID, starting with one of the most ambitious identity programs in the world.
The Ambitions of Aadhaar
Dubbed “Aadhaar”, India’s national digital identity program has become a foundational ID program for one of the world’s most populous countries, and all in just a handful of years. Aadhaar assigns each citizen a unique, 12-digit identity number, and ties it to their face, fingerprint, and iris biometrics. This means that every registered Indian citizen can be biometrically identified by authorities.
While the national ID program’s roots predate the election of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister in 2014, it was under his administration that Aadhaar’s development was accelerated, as part of a larger digital modernization initiative called “Digital India”. By the spring of 2016, a billion of India’s citizens were enrolled in Aadhaar. The program was already being used to enable access to government services, reduce corruption and waste in the distribution of subsidies and welfare benefits, and for biometric time and attendance tracking in government offices. The ensuing years would see Aadhaar’s scope expand to include things like ATM banking, mobile registration, and even passenger screening at airports, among other applications.
With its rapid development and major societal impact, Aadhaar has also come under criticism, and India’s Supreme Court has sought to restrict the government’s ability to require Aadhaar authentication in a number of areas. But it remains one of the biggest demonstrations in the world of how biometric technology can help to revolutionize ID.
Driver’s Licenses Go Digital
In terms of the rapidity of its development and implementation, Aadhaar has benefitted from the context of India’s broader economic and societal transformations over the past several years. In the US and other Western countries, the deployment of such an ambitious biometric identity program is probably not plausible. But that doesn’t mean tech leaders and government authorities aren’t making groundbreaking efforts to leverage new technologies for digital identity, and a great case in point is the emergence of the mobile driver’s license.
MorphoTrust USA – now a part of the digital identity and security giant IDEMIA – started experimenting with this concept back in 2015, in collaboration with Iowa’s Department of Transportation. It’s a straightforward idea: let citizens keep virtual versions of their official driver’s licenses in their smartphones. But smartphones were not yet ubiquitous at that time, and the mobile biometrics revolution – which was delivering new security solutions that could help to make the mobile ID concept a plausible reality – had only just got underway.
By October of 2018, IDEMIA was working with 38 state governments on its Mobile Driver License, or MDL, concept, with the use of facial recognition to authenticate license holders being an important part of the solution. And toward the end of last year, Oklahoma became the first state to officially launch one of these mobile driver’s license programs.
Others are following suit. In January of this year, Thales announced that it was developing a mobile driver’s license solution in collaboration with authorities in Queensland, Australia. And a report emerged in March of 2020 that Google was working on functionality to let users of Android devices keep digital driver’s licenses in their phones – signalling that the mobile driver’s licence concept could start to gain some global, mainstream traction in the near future.
Mobile and Blockchain ID
Mobile ID doesn’t stop at driver’s licenses, of course. Also in March of this year came the launch of a mobile identity app in Canada that was officially backed by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, and is aimed at letting end users authenticate online without the need for a password. Likewise, selfie authentication specialists like Yoti and Onfido have been partnering with government authorities to explore how their mobile solutions could be used for official ID purposes. Onfido, for example, starting testing a mobile identity solution in collaboration with the UK’s financial services regulator and a few FinTech partners last summer.
Blockchain technology offers further opportunities by decentralizing identity. Blockchain is premised upon the idea of an irrefutable digital ledger that is not overseen or managed by any one central identity; that’s why Microsoft’s Identity Division has been exploring how this technology could be used to establish digital ID that can never be revoked by, for example, an autocratic or oppressive state authority.
Blockchain technology also allows for anonymized identity: in theory, all of a citizen’s biographic data could be tied to a blockchain-based ID, and because the blockchain ledger is irrefutable and immutable – that is, it can’t be tampered with – an individual could use it to confirm their legal name or their age, for example, without having to disclose any other information attached to their ID. That’s part of the reason that Agora, a new e-voting platform that leverages Onfido biometric authentication, can assure citizens that their sensitive data won’t be tied to their votes.
These are some of the technologies at the vanguard of digital ID, but there are many more – and many to come. The concept of digital identity has only become more prominent in recent years, and as more of daily life goes digital, there will be further adaptations in the ongoing ID Evolution.
ID Evolution Month is made possible by our sponsor: Onfido
April 23, 2020 – by Alex Perala