The challenge of Digital Identity

The challenge of Digital Identity

Josh Rix
by Josh Rix

I have certain physical characteristics that will not change dramatically (if at all) over the course of my life. There are aspects of my eyes, voice, fingerprints, height, gait, the shape of my face, that give someone or something certainty that I am me.

Attached to these physical characteristics are certain immutable facts. I was born on a particular day, at a particular location, to a particular person. There’s a whole history of events associated with my physical person that will not and can not change.

Then I have a set of personal attributes associated to these physical characteristics that are factual and true, but not necessarily immutable. They are stored as records which, when provided by a trusted source and validated, will be considered gospel but could, in theory, be changed over time. Many people, for example, will not carry the same name for their entire lives.

It is only through the combination of my physical characteristics and the trusted record of these attributes that my physical identity is formed. My face, combined with a government issued document, proves I am me.

My physical characteristics need an anchor that ties them to my personal attributes.  

What then needs to differ to create an effective Digital Identity?

Surely we just create tools and software to verify my physical characteristics against a digitised database of my personal attributes.

I could swiftly pass through border control with but a smile directed towards a facial recognition camera. I could set up a bank account on my phone using my fingerprint alone. I could vote in a General Election from an app.

This would be a nirvana for some, a nightmare for others, but not a million miles away from the direction identity is going.

If implemented correctly, digital identity solutions can enable:

However, the challenges are numerous.

Digital identity solutions are being pursued globally and models for their implementation are already appearing. The Singapore Government recently introduced facial verification as an extension to their existing National Digital Identity infrastructure. Government and private organisations can access personal information once an individual has verified their identity using facial recognition software provided by iProov.

Although slightly further behind, the UK Government has consulted with the market to form an approach and principles within which a framework for digital identity can be considered. Similarly, industry groups in the UK, such as TISA, are exploring how digital identity could be applied in more specific scenarios.

Digital identity is an area that will evolve considerably in the coming years. Effective solutions will act as a secure key to an ever-expanding range of digital services, streamlining customer journeys, reducing instances of fraud and reducing operational costs.

But mass adoption isn’t just reliant on an effective solution; individuals need to trust not just that the system is secure, but also that their personal liberties won’t be abused by governments and private organisations alike. This, rather than the technology, might be the toughest nut to crack.

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