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Bridging America’s digital identity gap with mobile driver’s licenses

Bridging America’s digital identity gap with mobile driver’s licenses

By Neville Pattinson, Head of Federal Government Sales at Thales Group’s DIS Identity & Biometric Solutions

The fraud problem that has accompanied public services and benefits is well known. The next step in clamping down on this fraud is also well understood in some places, but efforts and understanding are being held back in the U.S. by a difference in the country’s identity infrastructure, and arguably culture, from countries in the Europe Union.

The EU has national ID cards that support the convergence between biometrics and digital identity, giving relying parties a way to be sure that the people they interact with online are who they claim to be. Face biometrics tie the person applying for a public benefit to an identity that the government already has a record of.

In the U.S., mobile driver’s licenses represent the opportunity to provide a high-assurance mechanism, associated with an anchor for trust in the identity.

Confronting rampant fraud

The estimates of how much fraud was carried out against American taxpayers during the pandemic continue to increase, with the recent report from the FinCEN Identity Project that at least $100 billion, or 11 to 15 percent of the total unemployment insurance benefits paid out, were fraudulent.

Identity theft plagues individuals, governments and businesses alike, and funds other illicit activities.

Where relying parties are able to, they have turned to selfie biometrics with liveness detection, matched against government-issued identity documents, to protect online processes from identity fraud.

The closest thing to a national identity document in the U.S. is the passport, but this travel document is held by only 56 percent of adults.

The driver’s licenses issued by state governments already act as de facto identity document for myriad use cases, from proving our age to opening bank accounts.

As states launch and ramp-up the rollout of mobile driver’s licenses, they present a unique opportunity for Americans to enjoy the benefits of a digital identity for interactions with the government, without establishing a national ID. For state and federal government agencies, it offers the opportunity to make meaningful progress in the battle against fraud. The potential savings, as seen from the fraud amount above, are enormous.

A digital tool for a digital job

Mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs) are accepted at dozens of airports across the U.S. in a pilot that aviation stakeholders hope will pave the way to nationwide adoption. The greater long-term potential of mDLs, however, is likely for use in online interactions.

Because they are built for the digital world, mDLs include encryption, selective disclosure and other capabilities that keep consumers data safer than sharing photos or scans of physical driver’s licenses and filling out forms of personal information.

They are also designed to be part of a digital identity ecosystem. They do this by supporting the face biometric match that binds the user to the established identity. A liveness check ensures that the selfie is real, which prevents people from using photos or other hacks to sign up under multiple identities.

An mDL allows the relying party (the government agency of business that needs to see proof of the applicant’s identity) to get the assurance of biometric checks without storing the biometric data. The collection of other personal information can also be minimized, often to the point of simple “yes” or “no” answers.

The growth of digital government services

Ireland is ahead of the curve in the EU’s digital identity sprint, and is anticipating hundreds of millions of pounds in savings as a result. Other countries have set ambitious goals for digitizing pubic services to increase efficiency and lower the cost of delivery.

The range of services and interactions with governments that can be improved with an mDL go far beyond claiming government benefits, therefore. Renewing or filing applications with the government, including driver’s licenses and other documents like business licenses, can be digitized and automated. Even processes like getting something notarized, which are frequently time consuming and require people to travel to a certain place to complete manually, can be moved online and simplified.

Eventually, an enormous range of services from the public and private sectors can be made easier and less costly through the use of digital IDs.

In the U.S., the only realistic way to issue digital IDs to most adults across the country without taking decades is through mobile driver’s licenses. With mDLs, the technology is ready, the standards are in place, and early returns from pioneering states are positive. The only holdup remaining are the slower-moving state governments when it comes to preventing fraud through innovation.

Meanwhile relying parties are positioned to seize the initiative by adapting their practices to accept mDLs for identity verification.  Businesses and other organizations offering easier onboarding and interactions, following the TSA’s lead, can gain a competitive market advantage. If they do, citizens will apply pressure to state governments to make their digital interactions more convenient by issuing them.

About the author

Neville Pattinson is the Head of Federal Government Sales at Thales Group’s DIS Identity & Biometric Solutions team based in Austin, TX. Pattinson is a leading expert and thought leader on digital identity solutions such as smart cards, electronic passports, various biometric technologies and mobile digital identity to keep identity credentials secure, private and trusted.

DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.

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