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US poised for progress towards biometrics-backed digital ID in 2024

US poised for progress towards biometrics-backed digital ID in 2024

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

Most Americans have become comfortable using face and fingerprint biometrics as a way to unlock their mobile phones. In 2024, the number of Americans using digital IDs and biometric verification to pass more quickly through airport checkpoints will start to catch up.

A growing number of the state agencies that issue identity credentials like driver’s licenses are working to make digital IDs available to residents in the form of mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs). They are also collaborating with federal officials to give Americans a faster option for security checks and flight boarding.

This introduction of digital ID in a way that makes things easier for people will reframe the way numerous air travelers think about the technology, and bring a base of informed users to the popular dialogue about how people should establish trust.

Consumers and biometrics

Touch ID debuted in September, 2013, but most smartphone users were introduced to biometrics in person sometime later, less than ten years ago for most of us. In the intervening time, the use of a PIN as a way to unlock a smartphone has become old-fashioned to many.

Consumers are also becoming used to using biometrics in other settings. In 2024, consumers will see a wider availability of biometric identity verification solutions offered by commercial entities to verify the identity of the individual, when transacting either in-person or online, than ever before.

Commercial uses of biometric technology now span across fingerprint, iris and facial recognition modalities to ensure the individual is the same one who initially enrolled in a service such as grocery store checkout or amusement park season pass.

As consumers repeat processes like taking a selfie or scanning a fingerprint to complete a purchase instead of entering a number sent in a text message, they will see the benefits of replacing other tedious, ineffective procedures. And one place where Americans are clearly looking to replace those processes is the airport environment.

Biometrics and digital IDs

Biometrics have long been a consideration in the standards for passports, and are widely used to connect individuals to their digital ID around the world. It is little surprise, therefore, that as states issue mDLs to provide digital ID to their residents, they are similarly implementing them with biometrics standards in mind.

The mDL allows for the verification of a person’s identity to a trusted government issued source along with the additional option of extending the verification to make use of biometric facial 1:1 match with a selfie.

The greatest success of biometric technology for everyday applications is in its ability to accurately confirm who an individual is in a 1:1 or 1:few matching situation. These are the kinds of comparisons used in airport applications like security checks and flight boarding.  Completing these checks without handing over a passport will demonstrate the value of biometrics-backed digital IDs in the form of increased speed and convenience.

Further, by providing users the choice to use their biometric features for a specific identity verification process and transparency into its ethical use by the operator, we should see less alarmism over the use of biometric technology.

Digital IDs and airports

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been a pioneer in acceptance of mobile digital identities helping to make the travel experience quicker. Dedicated TSA lanes now exist at several airports for encouraging passengers to use their mobile digital credential.

TSA began accepting mDLs on a trial basis in early-2022. The pilots are expected to reach dozens of airports this year, as two more states join the seven already issuing digital IDs accepted by the agency.

The first assessments of how successful the pilots have been may also come out in the year ahead, potentially creating a tail-wind of positive attention and consumer interest.

Next steps for US digital IDs

Then there are trials for other applications, like retail purchases and age verification for alcohol or tobacco purchases, as in Charleston, Soth Carolina and Nevada, respectively. In the latter case, the privacy of the individual is protected by the ability of the digital ID to provide a “yes/no” answer to an inquiry if the person is old enough to make the purchase, while the retailer gets assurance that the ID is not fake.

The next step is production roll-outs where trials have happened, and more trials in other locations and by other retailers.

With these pilots, digital ID adoption and use will grow rapidly this year, starting with air travelers. The most consequential outcome of this change in public experience may eventually be real progress towards the creation of strong legislative guard rails for biometrics use.

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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