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Physical start for digital ID and cryptograph wrappers at Identity Week Day 2

5.9M people in UK 'ID-challenged'

Biometrics and digital ID

Digital identity for development and inclusion was one of the main themes of the second day of London Identity Week. Held in the UK, there was the opportunity to examine the country’s significant exclusion issues and ways to tackle them. The Post Office said it is deliberately taking a physical approach to launching its digital ID, while a cryptographic approach to decentralized biometric ID from Tech5 ticks a lot of boxes.

Regulation and cooperation needed for a digital ID to tackle exclusion

Without regulation, digital identity might only help with inclusion if the whole industry moves forward together to share the cost of onboarding unprofitable customers, found a panel on the issues. Opening up more ways to verify identities could allow more people to enjoy the benefits of having an easily-proved identity.

Around 12 percent of the UK’s adult population – 5.9 million individuals – are ID-challenged, according to the most detailed study into the issue, carried out on behalf of the Open Identity Exchange. The study found that opening up more datasets for use, such as digital verifiable credentials, allows for more people to be verified and would increase inclusion. Improving access to the priority data sets such as National Insurance and NHS records would also help.

“We know users understand that digital identity will allow them to make their lives easier, to collect and digitize their existing credentials… we know there’s an appetite for organizations to accept it,” said Nick Mothershaw, chief identity strategist at the Open Identity Exchange (OIX), “but this is only going to work if it moves the whole digital world forward, and it’s got to move forward in terms of inclusion.”

Mothershaw outlined why the previous UK government digital ID service Verify failed on inclusion by struggling to include people with a “thin file,” poor credit or address histories.

“We need to think very carefully about relying parties,” said Jim Purves, head of identity solutions at the Post Office, “because relying parties have complex rules, there’s complex datasets that need to be communicated. So this needs to be seamless to the user – digital identity must be smart.”

The UK’s establishment of a trust framework to oversee its digital identity landscape could (and should) mean it is more inclusive than the previous Verify attempt.

“If it goes wrong, we face creating a two-tier society: the haves and the have-nots,” said Sarah Walton, digital consultant at Counterpoint which led the OIX report.

“It’s got to be better than what’s already there,” said Mothershaw, noting the many millions of pounds being spent on digital systems and user experience. Travel during COVID is providing many examples of “bad digital.”

Better identity systems could save people money, especially those on lower incomes, said Walton. People on low incomes of around £8,000 to £10,000 a year could save over £800 a year – a huge proportion of their income – simply by being able to pay bills via direct debit rather than cash. Purves said that between one and two million bills were paid per week at Post Office branches and the PayZone network, using their time to pay in person as well as facing unfavorable tariffs.

Purves explained the issues around financial exclusion in the UK. He said the financial sector’s definition of excluded persons is “underserved.” “It’s about ‘how do we sell more stuff to our existing customers?’, ‘how do we risk profile better our existing customers?’ They don’t have this distinction between the unbanked and the underbanked. And I think it’s really important to move this agenda forward through government and through industry, to bring this distinction to the fore. We’ve got to think about the excluded being unbanked, not underbanked.”

Walton believes inclusion will come down to closer collaboration between the government and the private sector and particularly the financial service sector. She hopes the requirements made by the Government Digital Service to ensure everyone can access government services will be applied throughout the private sector.

Purves explained how the Post Office ran an inclusion pilot with a local authority and a large retail bank with the goal of taking someone who is identity-excluded into a digital identity and onboard them for a bank account. “The bank made it very clear to us that the only reason they were engaging was because they were happy to help the whole industry move forward – they didn’t want to onboard these customers. They used their KYC and AML regulation as an excuse not to onboard these customers because they’re not profitable,” said Purves.

“So the only way this moves forward is if the whole industry moves forward and the costs are shared.”

Post Office concentrates on physical uses for introducing digital ID

Around a month since launching on 23 August, the UK Post Office EasyID digital identity app has seen almost 40,000 downloads reported Elinor Hull, Identity Services Director at the Post Office. “We really feel that in terms of increasing where you can use your Post Office EasyID is in part the actual education of the UK population as to what even is a digital ID. We’re trying not to use that language at all, so it’s very much ‘EasyID’ on your phone. That’s pretty much all a consumer needs to know,” said Hull.

“We’ve launched with some really easy to understand use cases,” said Hull referring to parcel collection and proof of age for buying lottery tickets, “so we’re starting with these very physical, person-to-person use cases . . . In the pipeline coming, there are a lot more digital services.”

And after digital services, even more physical applications on the high street.

Tech5 launches cryptographic biometric ID with no special equipment required

Biometric verification specialist Tech5 launched a cryptograph-based visual and biometric ID system which has user consent built in.

Rob Haslam, strategic advisor at Tech5, said the biometrics industry is set to double over the next five years and believes the industry and demand will shift towards decentralized identity systems. The centralized system where usage pings government databases is a “honeypot for hacking” according to Haslem who promotes user control and a “phone-first” approach to avoid the “massive cost” of smartcard systems and readers.

“It has to be visual,” said Haslam. To avoid the need for readers for chip-based credentials and the issues of digitized versions of existing credentials on a password-protected device, the T5-Digital ID system bundles a visual ID, the holder’s details and biometrics “wrapped in cryptographs” and turned into a visual.

It looks like a very large QR code and can be printed at home or onto an ID card or displayed on a phone. The data is segregated which means that the holder can control which sections can be accessed without their consent, and biometrically allow further access.

Onboarding can be done with a phone, even with fingerprint biometrics via Tech5’s proprietary AirSnap system – the first to enable scanning fingerprints with an uncalibrated smartphone camera.

No internet is required to read the cryptograph with another device with the relevant software and redundancy is built in to the cryptograph so that scratches and folding should still allow the majority of the stored information to be read.

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