Striking a Balance Between Physical and Digital Identity Security

At a time when automated document checks and ID-proofing processes are becoming more and more widespread, the physical credential remains extremely important in securely establishing and underpinning a person’s identity. This is true for travel purposes, as well as many other novel fields, such as remote on-boarding or online Know-Your-Customer scenarios. A secure and reliable identity proofing process always utilizes the authentication of a physical identity document as a confidence base.

The experience of physical document examiners teaches us that, without continuing investment into the integrity of secure ID documents, the ease with which documents can be forged or altered is making the job of the digital counterfeiter that much easier.

It is true today, and will be even more so in the future, that physical security features will need to be verifiable by humans as well as machines, especially standard document readers and mobile devices. We need to focus on developing solutions that enable both manual and automated verification of the physical security features and the electronic data contained in an identity document, regardless of whether the document is to be authenticated physically (in-person) or remotely (on-line).

For the foreseeable future, digital technologies will not replace physical identity cards or passports, however they can add benefits to physical document protection. In addition to supporting a solid tangible identity document, and the digital documents to come, there is a lot of bridge work to be done, so that the move to a digital document is facilitated by a transition, to both ensure that the original, base documents maintain their importance, and to minimize the disruption inherent in going to a more digital system.

The various identity, payment and authentication documents will likely cross different bridges in their respective transitions, but upholding the integrity of the solid physical documents ensures a basis for a successful strong digital document future.

It would be easy to look at press releases in this area and assume that all new identity, payment and authentication programmes are now digital. An initiative to catalogue the issue of new ID and secure documents in this newsletter aims to put on record that governments are still creating new families and versions of physical documents.

There is room for a wider debate within our industry on these issues, to which this newsletter can contribute. The time is now for industry and governments to collaborate on ways to inextricably link the physical and digital, making both forms of identity more secure.