How governments are using mobile IDs to transform services for citizens

By on 14/07/2023 | Updated on 14/07/2023

As governments around the world look to deliver digitally-enabled services, many are examining the potential of mobile identity systems to make life easier for citizens. Matt Cole of IDEMIA explains how to make this happen.

When the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world in 2020, many governments around the world implemented lockdowns or other social distancing measures to reduce transmission.

While such rules were vital for public health, they created other problems for governments to solve. It meant, for example, that public sector organisations – and private entities – had to adjust to contactless methods for essential interactions such as payments, shopping, prescription pick-up, and identification.

Out-of-date IDs can hinder people’s applications for government services or banking or financial products, but, as Matt Cole recalls from living in Washington DC at the time, “it was really difficult to get appointments at the government offices”.

Cole, the Group Executive Vice President for Public Security and Identity at IDEMIA, a leading identity technology company, says COVID-19 was a clear demonstration of the potential for digital identity to make services easier for citizens.

And governments – spurred by the experience of the pandemic – are increasingly focused on implementing digital versions of identity documents like driving licenses to make it easier for citizens to use – and update – them.

In particular, many governments are looking at mobile IDs.

Mobile IDs are a form of digital identity that creates a contactless, highly secure, government-approved personal ID that is linked to users’ mobile phones, and which can be used both in-person and online.

“A very simple way to think about mobile ID is as a digital version of your physical identity document – whether it’s a driver’s license, a national identity card or a passport,” says Cole. Mobile IDs include digital records of personal information – including first and last name, date of birth, address, and photo – and could be used as a valid form of identity anywhere that a traditional identity document can be used.

IDEMIA’s digital and mobile ID solutions, which are in place in eight American states and being rolled out in more, mean it is now easier to get an up-to-date ID.

“It’s a great example of how digital identity technology creates a much more seamless and convenient experience for the consumer,” he says.

The benefits of digital IDs

Mobile IDs are secured through verification with a government system of record, such as that of the DMVs in the United States, or a central registry. The data is securely stored on the end-user device and are under their own control. In case of a change of address, for instance, it is easy to synchronise the central system with the mobile ID.

But the benefits do not stop there. If the pandemic illustrated the case for mobile identity for citizens, it also proved that governments need to build resilient digital services, and mobile identity has a key part to play in this transformation.

For example, a mobile ID can streamline the payments of benefits, or make it easier to prove vehicle ownership in a roadside stop, and governments are looking at how the technology can also be used in areas like prescription renewal, or for paying taxes.

Alongside streamlining bureaucratic processes for both government and citizen, a mobile ID can help cut fraud, with governments better able to combat identity theft and fraudulent activity. It also provides the basis of an identity system that can be used across the wider economy, with seamless integration between citizens, governments and businesses catalysed by a high level of assurance.

COVID accelerated digital identity projects and initiatives around the world. There were already some governments that were moving in this direction, Cole says, with the United States and Colombia prime examples.

“But what we saw during the pandemic was countries that were not in that first-mover category realising they needed to move.

“The pandemic didn’t create the need for digital identity – that already existed – but the use cases became very obvious during COVID. That caused everyone to speed up.”

Now, IDEMIA is involved in digital and mobile ID activity all over the world, with no signs of activity slowing down as the world reopens post-pandemic.

“During COVID, I learned to do a lot of things digitally, because I had to,” Cole recalls from his own experience. “I don’t want to go back to doing them in person. It’s so much more convenient, and consumers and citizens don’t want to go back to doing it in person either.”

How governments can introduce digital IDs

To unlock these benefits, governments need to both launch digital IDs – and their mobile versions – and then get them adopted by citizens.

Governments need to think about solving what Cole calls “the chicken and egg problem” of encouraging take-up of mobile IDs in sufficient quantities that they can actually be used by governments and by organisations in the wider economy, such as financial services companies, where identity is vital.

This problem, Cole says, mirrors an issue faced by the banks and retailers over the development and deployment of contactless payment.

“Credit card and debit card technology has gone through stages – magnetic stripe and signature, contact chip and pin, and now it’s contactless payments.

“In each of those transitions, and particularly the contactless one, there was a situation where the banks didn’t want to issue contactless credit and debit cards, because no merchants could accept them, and therefore merchants wouldn’t invest in the technology to accept cards that were not in the market.”

This problem was solved by identifying that one of the key uses of contactless payments – paying for transport journeys – could catalyse the transformation.

“Transit was identified as a use case that could solve that problem,” he recalls. “If you could enable payment cards to be used for your subway ride, then suddenly all the merchants would start accepting them too, and that would create enough critical mass to make it worthwhile for the banks to issue the cards.”

A similar problem now exists for digital IDs, he said. “Governments can start issuing digital IDs, but if no one can accept them, then consumers can’t use them. You have to create both the issuance side and the acceptance side in parallel.”

The solution? Identify how physical identity documents are used currently, and look to replicate and improve that experience.

For example, in the United States, a major use for driving license is as ID at airports for flights.

IDEMIA has developed contactless mobile ID readers that have now been purchased by the US Transportation Security Administration to enable the acceptance of mobile IDs at all US airports.

This milestone technological development by IDEMIA is “solving that chicken and egg problem,” Cole says. “We’re helping states issue driver’s licenses digitally, but then we’re also enabling the Transportation Security Agency to accept those identity documents at participating TSA checkpoints.”

From such steps, the wider potential for mobile IDs can begin to be realised. Some US law enforcement agencies are now accepting mobile ID as verification for restricted purchases, opening up their use in wider public services.

Much like with banking, physical and digital identity documents will co-exist for the foreseeable future, Cole says, but the opportunity to use them to transform services means mobile IDs are key to the government of the future.

“Your digital ID will often be derived from your physical ID and can be a companion of your physical ID,” he says.

“Mobile ID presents an opportunity for governments to modernise identification processes, improve citizen services, enhance security, and streamline administrative operations – all while providing a trusted means of identification that is convenient, contactless, and based on common standards.”

IDEMIA can provide government with foundational ID systems, including a full mobile ID app, or with a software development kit for elements such document authentication, liveness checks, face verification that a public sector client can then integrate into its mobile app.
It can also provide the back-end system, or the interfaces that can connect to governments’ own systems, with all personal data transferred from back-end to smartphone is cyphered and signed.
Find out more information here.

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One Comment

  1. Yves Moisan says:

    Latvia has made impressive strides in digital ID over the last few years. Very inspiring.

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