Another digital identity panel, another list of ambitious goals

Another digital identity panel, another list of ambitious goals

In recent times, a decade has never felt more like the distant future than it does today. A vendor-sponsored online panel about digital IDs in 2030 pointed to progress that would require major changes in societal and technological trends.

It is possible, for example, that some people will have a digital twin comprised of a rich database of personal attributes. Integrated into anticipated identity platforms, consumers and businesses could, for example, find and vet people for gigs or full-time employment using facial recognition and other biometric systems.

Yet it is difficult to imagine trust (even Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify”) again becoming common enough to solve big challenges. Trust in Big Tech by consumers, in government by citizens or even in people by themselves is shaky and getting shakier.

The topic — digital ID’s impact in 2030 — was batted around September 16 by three executives with two industry vendors and a European tech think tank. It is a popular topic at the moment, spurring a number of online panel talks, mostly because a pandemic would seem to be the perfect use case for digital IDs.

Opining in this week’s example were Jon Shamah, chair of the European digital identity think tank EEMA; Husayn Kassai, CEO of identity verification vendor Onfido; and John Erik Setsaas, a vice president with digital ID firm Signicat.

The panel is optimistic about what a digital ID system could do for individual countries or even the global economy, including a platform that would largely automate the task of finding a qualified and trustworthy local babysitter or that would make voting systems more failsafe.

All agreed that digital ID setup and maintenance had to be centered on the individual, not a company or government. Businesses are motivated by profit, and governments typically move too slowly and act with budget-restricted competence.

Theirs is not a robust optimism, however.

“I have a worry that we’re starting to see now a situation where the issues we are discussing are becoming more and more urgent,” said Shamah, adding that “2030 might be too late” to address “some fundamentals” needed to create the systems.

For instance, issuing digital IDs and expecting individuals to take care of their affairs themselves assumes a lot. It is not realistic, the panel agreed, to think that the necessary numbers of people in, say, the United States would be capable of or even interested in making sure their rights and permissions were appropriate over time.

Remarkably, many people still have rudimentary password hygiene, stumble into fairly obvious online and phone scams and recycle unread information about their retirement investment accounts.

It was not like the panel was being high-handed. Shamah said he himself is “petrified” at the thought of having to manage his own digital ID.

Better to have individuals onboard using an app and have the company or organization behind the service manage things, he said. Of course, if individuals could trust anyone to do this work for them, they would still have to be motivated enough to research potential partners.

Kassai said that in a successful system, individuals would not be isolated in the process even in a consumer-driven scenario. He said multiple private and public organizations could find profitable and leadership roles that the market would require.

Indeed, said Setsaas, Big Tech is in the position to make this happen, and governments are in the position to set system policies and restrictions.

Shamah said someone needs to “remove the fear of flying” among individuals, alluding to how a lack of knowledge can make a technology appear more risky than it is.

He said that he is confident that a fraudulent charge on his credit account will be addressed and money returned. In the same way, people need to assume that if a problem involving their digital ID comes up or if changes need to be made, that help will be a phone call away.

Of course, they will need to have that faith on the front end, before investments are made and systems are lit up.

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