Editorial

Time to say goodbye to physical documents?

A guest blog from Julie Dawson, Director of Regulatory and Policy at Yoti and a speaker at our conference Think Digital Identity for Government on June 7th

Posted 30 April 2019 by

We live in a society driven by digital connections – the way we bank, book a holiday, apply for a job and even meet potential life partners have all moved online. Despite this, the way we prove who we are remains outdated, still reliant on paper and card. Not only is this method old fashioned and insecure, but some people can’t afford or access ID documents; leaving them overlooked and socially excluded.

Day in day out we are asked to prove our age and identity. This could be to buy a bottle of beer, open a bank account, get a loan or rent a room. The government is adding even more scenarios where we need to provide proof of identity or age – to access adult content online and to purchase energy drinks for example. But we shouldn’t have to rely on paper documents simply to prove who we are.

£18.6 million spent on replacing driving licences

First of all, paper documents can easily be lost or stolen. Every year almost 400,000 passports are reported lost or stolen, with 40% of these belonging to people in the twenties. Approximately 10,000 passports are lost on nights out in a bar or club. We shouldn’t have to worry about our passport falling out of our pocket or bag when we’re enjoying ourselves on the dancefloor.

Replacing lost documents is not only a hassle, but there’s also a financial impact – it’s £75 for a replacement passport and £20 for a driving licence. With almost one million driving licences lost by British drivers last year, this equates to a staggering £18.6 million. Imagine that cost globally. Furthermore, 20% of young people say they lose an ID document at least once every two years; placing a significant financial burden on their shoulders. 

Greater risk of identity fraud

Should these lost documents fall into the wrong hands, they place the owner at great risk of identity fraud. Your name, address and date of birth provide sufficient information for another person to be ‘you’, They could use your details to set up online accounts or take out credit in your name, which could make it very difficult for you to obtain credit in the future. You may also find your name or reputation damaged if false and fraudulent accounts are associated with your details.

With the number of identity fraud victims reaching an all time high in 2017, it seems backwards to still be showing valuable and sensitive ID documents simply to prove who we are. Furthermore, the government and DVLA advise people to leave their passport and driving licence safe at home, but without an alternative, how are we meant to prove who we are?

Challenges of fake IDs

The ever-improving quality and availability of fake IDs also makes it extremely challenging to be certain someone is not using a fraudulent document. Fake IDs with holograms are available online for just £10 to £50 and counterfeit documents are hard to spot without equipment and well trained staff. It is unrealistic to train retail and night time economy staff to be able to accurately check documents of 160 plus countries from around the world. 

Difficulties in proving age online

Additionally, it is very difficult to prove our age online. Some websites have an 18+ tick box or ask individuals to manually enter a date of birth. But these are both open to abuse and can be easily falsified. Asking people to take a photo or scan their ID document is not practical and results in people revealing far more information than necessary, such as their passport number and address. We should be able to just share our age, without disclosing any other personal details.

So what’s the solution?

Thanks to the advances in smartphone technology and biometrics, digital identities now offer a simple and secure alternative to paper ID documents. We only need to create a digital identity once, but can then use this time and time again to prove who we are, both online and in person. Many industries are already recognising the benefits digital identities offer – including airlines, financial services, dating platforms, retailers and classified sites.

With a single digital identity and verified details, individuals can prove who they are in seconds.

Digital identities also give us more control over our personal information. Rather than having to show all of the details on our passport or driving licence, we can select specific identity details to share. For instance, if a website needed to ensure all of their users were 18 or over, individuals could just share their verified age, date of birth or an ‘over 18’ attribute with the website. This data minimisation approach gives the company the details to be compliant whilst protecting the privacy and confidentiality of individuals. 

With many areas of our lives moving online, it’s time the way we prove our identity caught up. It doesn’t make sense that we still have to carry around and show physical documents simply to prove who we are. Not only are passports and driving licences expensive to buy and replace, but they place the owner at greater risk of identity fraud if lost or stolen.

The time has come for a modern and safer way to prove who we are.

You can hear more from Julie at our Think Digital Identity for Government conference on June 7th, where she is part of a panel on the Future of Digital Identity. You can register your attendance here.