Our ‘identities’ are fragmented and duplicated across the digital world, making them difficult to link together and vulnerable to being stolen, faked, lost or altered
Imagine a paperless world where every time you were asked to prove your identity – from applying for a bank loan to showing you were a licensed driver – was so easy that it just took a swipe and a couple of taps on your smartphone to bring up the required information.
Many organisations and governments here and globally are working towards a form of digital identity where citizens and non-citizens effectively have their own digital wallet that will ensure access to basic services, customised digital experiences, enhanced health and wellbeing and safety.
Yet the public and private sector is still figuring out what identity really means in a digital world, how identity data is handled online, and how much control individuals have over the process.
What does identity in a digital world mean?
Who are you? This question is asked repeatedly, whether we are checking our bank balance or paying a utility bill.
Our identity is fundamental to who we are, how we relate to others, and how we exist in relation to business and public organisations. It determines how we are represented in the political system and what constitutes our rights on a day-to-day basis.
As digital services expand, whether we like it or not, our identity is becoming more digital. So, digital representation of our identity is becoming more prolific.
There are a number of different definitions for digital identity across human, legal entities and devices. It is thought that a broader definition of digital identity will be required to address identity for virtual entities, AI bots, and robots.
How best to collect and use identity that gives the power to individuals?
Governments are increasingly evolving digital identity systems to support their goals, more efficient public service delivery and making it easier for people to access their services.
If we put in place digital identities with trust and good design at its core, this could significantly change the future for people around the world
Read more: Ready now: A digital identity for Kiwis
In New Zealand, the Department of Internal Affairs’ Real Me program allows people to prove who they are online and access services. For example, using RealMe, people can renew their passports online without having to post a written application.
At the same time, Governments and organisations have a growing responsibility to make sure that their digital identity systems are based on trust and won’t cause harm to the user.
There is significant room to improve how identity data is handled online, and how much control individuals have in the process.
The role of trust in digital identity
When designed well, a digital identity will empower the individual and give them more control over their personal data, who holds the information and how it is shared.
In New Zealand, if you were a young female with a digital identity and you are asked for ID at a bar, you wouldn’t need to show a driver’s licence or other forms of ID that give away too much information. In this scenario, a digital identity would show that you are over 18, and that’s all the information that would be shared.
From discussions with New Zealand government ministries, we understand that a digital identity would ensure that iwi have a greater say on how their data can be used, and that different iwi will have particular ownership rights over data.
Any design of a digital identity should begin with the individual and how their identity will impact their future. Clearly, values that respect individual freedoms need to be integral.
The challenge of security
Our ‘identities’ are fragmented and duplicated across the digital world, making them difficult to link together and vulnerable to being stolen, faked, lost or altered. Clearly this brings significant cost and risk.
The World Economic Forum is exploring why digital identity is important and how to get it right.
“Individuals have the most to lose if things go wrong with digital ID – so they need control over how their identity is used and by whom, along with gold standard data security and solid assurances that it won’t affect access, for example, to healthcare, welfare support or education, or key democratic rights to vote or speak out. Without these guarantees, ID schemes will face opposition and fail to fulfil their potential,” said Amanda Long, Director-General, Consumers International.
Technology such as blockchain could play a role in ensuring secure and personal security for digital identity, yet it’s thought that technology alone isn’t enough and there will need to be solutions across sectors and Governments.
An estimated 1.1 billion people globally have no formal identity at all – an issue that ID2020, a global identity solution is seeking to address.
The technologies blockchain and biometrics are powering the global identity solution that aims to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030. Accenture has partnered with other global technology companies to advance this project.
The prototype captures an individual’s enrolment through biometrics, including fingerprints, voice, face or an iris scan. Then several steps are taken to create a unique identifier using multiple security protocols.
This identifier is then recorded on the blockchain which acts as an index to all applicable data, and this makes it easy to locate, access and share information without an individual’s personal data being stored on the blockchain. Using an app on a phone, an individual can create a platform that is multi-faceted, and secure.
If we put in place digital identities with trust and good design at its core, this could significantly change the future for people around the world. In New Zealand, it will enable people to be more informed about their rights and empower people to be more in control of their information, how it is used and shared.
Justin Gray is country managing director, Accenture New Zealand
Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.