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Inclusion and scalability linked in biometric authentication against paper ID

Mitre working on low-cost custodial model that depends on strong trust networks
Inclusion and scalability linked in biometric authentication against paper ID

With 85 percent of the global population using smartphones, many digital ID products rely on them for biometric authentication technology. But there are still millions of people without the resources to own a smartphone. In conversation for the Digital Dollar Project’s Fintech Hub event series, experts from Mitre and Accenture say digital identity trust networks are key to creating low-cost custodial models for decentralized digital ID.

Chris Buchanan, the capabilities area lead for digital identity at Mitre, which administers federally-funded research and development centers for the U.S. government, says that in the case of digital ID, inclusion and data sovereignty are connected. Which is to say, the solution is in simplifying the process on one end, while making the other end airtight.

Specifically, he points to the idea of a biometrically authenticatable paper ID for non-phone users to ensure non-repudiation of asset transfers, paired with a custodial wallet – a system Mitre piloted in Ukraine. A low-cost custodial model that uses a QR code or some other “digitized blob of data” encoded with a digital signature on a paper credential can be both non-fungible and easily replaced, says Buchanan; in other words, highly feasible, as long as the digital trust relationship is calibrated correctly.

A digital identity wallet “is more of an agent” than a crypto wallet, he says. “It’s got some smarts, so it’s able to do some evaluations, check some hashes and signatures and also kind of conform to the user’s desire” in terms of what data is shared. On the credentialing side, the trust relationship must be built into the cryptography; Buchanan gives the example of guardianship, wherein parental IDs can be “chained” with that attribute for layered authentication.

“On the verifier side, you build the trust network around the application,” which can be layered or customized in terms of what parts of the codified data cache it accesses. In other words, the wallet is custodial and can conduct zero-knowledge proofs, whereas the ID card “is not my wallet – it’s just my token to access the wallet.”

The question of language is also important in developing decentralized digital ID. Buchanan says trying to associate anything to do with ID privacy with the term “blockchain” led to much consternation from regulators and users. A 2019 paper by cryptographer Sam Smith outlines the concept of key event receipt infrastructure, which avoids the blockchain issue by leveraging authenticated chain data containers (ACDC), “a stream of data snippets that can all have non-repudiation back to the trusted entity,” and which Buchanan says is faster than blockchain.

New approaches like this are still being hatched, but Buchanan says the core message around digital identity and inclusion is fairly simple. Citing “a young lady at a conference” that inspired him to explore paper-based biometric authenticators, he says “the most inclusive technologies are the most scalable technologies.”

The full conversation can be viewed here.

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