COVID-19 and the lasting shift to contactless ID verification
By Alex Andrade-Walz, Director of Marketing at Evernym.
The process of proving one’s identity in a physical context almost always involves some form of contact, whether it be handing over a passport to a customs officer, typing in a secure PIN, or scanning a fingerprint.
However COVID-19 has brought with it an unprecedented need to reduce or eliminate physical contact. Almost overnight, our current identity proofing approach carries a risk of virus transmission and is complicated further with new requirements to wear facial masks – how does an agent reliably cross-check against a photo?
Simultaneously, the global economy is hurting badly. While human mobility is curtailed, whether by regulation or simply through fear, we cannot get back to a new normal.
Enter verifiable credentials
Fortunately, a disruptive new approach to exchange identity information is catching on, and the blueprint for it exists through a W3C standard approved in 2019 called Verifiable Credentials.
Verifiable credentials are essentially the 21st century equivalent of physical documents like passports, driving licenses, or any type of qualification certificate – but with new digital superpowers. Just as those documents are held in purses, wallets or filing cabinets, these are stored in a secure, tamper-proof, and privacy-maximizing fashion within smartphone wallet apps.
Now, with a tap of a button or a QR code scan, an individual can share an instantly-verifiable set of attributes from these digital credentials – whether they are in a branch of their bank, passing through airport and transit authorities, or with any other verifying party – all without needing to hand over physical documents, or even needing to remove their mask.
COVID-19 has been an accelerant for this emergent technology. Notably it has moved governments, healthcare providers, airlines, and others to consider its adoption as a means to get people moving and reopen the economy in a contactless manner.
Contactless verification in banking and travel
Leading this charge are organizations like MemberPass and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), who are leveraging Evernym’s verifiable credential platform to extend contactless identity verification to credit union members and passengers alike.
Designed for credit unions, MemberPass is a solution that transforms the contact center and in-branch experience for the member. Today, when a member calls into a contact center or visits a branch, they can prove who they are instantly without needing to hand over a driving license or having to answer knowledge-based questions, by merely sharing their MemberPass. The solution, which reduces call authentication times by up to 90%, has experienced a surge of interest with credit unions eager to solve a current problem and improve their member experience.
Meanwhile, IATA, the international trade association for the world’s airlines, has launched a contactless travel initiative building on verifiable credentials, so that passengers can move through airports without exchanging physical travel documents. Passengers will have their travel and identity documents verified ahead of time, such that they’ll simply need to tap their phone to share a digital proof of their travel information, before arriving at the airport, to pass through security and board planes seamlessly.
Creating lasting change
With luck, a vaccine for COVID-19 will be with us soon. However, the need for a scalable approach to contactless digital identity isn’t going away. The launch of the Trust over IP Foundation (which counts Mastercard, IBM, Evernym, LG CNS, Accenture, and the Government of British Columbia as members) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s recent keynote demonstration of verifiable credentials bode well for the future of this transformative technology.
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