The Time is Ripe, Thanks to Apple: Why Now is the Time for Digital Identity Verification

Jon Payne of WorldReach Software, government agencies really need to start caring about this technology. Why: because the public is increasingly demanding convenient, remote, digital service provision

Posted 21 November 2019 by Gary Flood

In May 2019, Goode Intelligence published an excellent report entitled Digital Identity & Document Verification. The report defines “eIDV” (electronic identity and document verification) as a digital means to establish that a person is who they claim to be. This includes onboarding into a system (for banking purposes, for example), or making an application to a government agency for a benefit of some kind. The report concludes that the use of such technology will grow rapidly in the next few years, but is constrained by a number of barriers, one of which was the inability of iPhone users to access the NFC (near-field communication) capabilities of their device outside the Apple ecosystem. But things are changing.

Before we get onto Apple, let’s take a step back. Why should government agencies care about this technology? Because it’s changing the way in which they interact with the public. And because the public increasingly demands convenient, remote, digital service provision.

“Thanks in part to Apple, the eIDV approach to managing citizen identity is ripening” – WorldReach Software’s Jon Payne
(Photo by KJ Spear)

At WorldReach, with our background in passports and immigration, we have been working on unlocking the power of the chip embedded in the e-passport. Given all the efforts made by passport agencies to embed a small computer full of secure data into the passport, couldn’t other government agencies make better use of it to help verify the identity of the holder?

This question has taken us into two innovative projects, in Canada and the UK.

For the last couple of years, the two Canadian government agencies with lead borders responsibilities, IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) and CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency), have been working on a prototype called the Chain of Trust. The ultimate aim of the project is to achieve zero wait time at the future border for admissible passengers. As the industry leader on the project, WorldReach is pleased to be working with both government and industry partners towards this aim. Using our eIDV service, low-risk travellers will be able to register using only a smart phone, remotely, from wherever they are. Our app allows applicants to register and authenticate their passport information – using their smartphone to read the chip – and uses the latest facial recognition technology to check that the applicant is in fact the owner of the document. Plus, there’s an additional layer of security in the form of genuine presence, to confirm that a real, live person is making the application.

In the UK, the EU Settlement Scheme run by the Home Office is using the eIDV concept in perhaps its single largest live deployment. Because of Brexit, the freedom of movement previously enjoyed by other EU nationals living in the UK will soon end. The UK government estimates that there are between 3 and 4 million people in this category, who are required to apply for a new “settled status” before December 2020, in order to continue living and working in the UK.

The above policy presented the Home Office with an operational challenge, since applying for settlement in the UK usually involves filling out a lengthy form, sending personal documents – including passports – by post, and in some cases requires an in-person interview. Given its awareness of emerging eIDV technologies, the Home Office chose to offer an entirely digital application process, and we at WorldReach are pleased to be a significant part of the solution.

Although the EU Settlement Scheme began in public beta only in January of this year, followed by full release in March, the Home Office recently announced that more than 2 million applicants had already applied for settled status. However, because of the lack of access to NFC on Apple devices, all those choosing the eIDV route had to apply on an Android device.

But now that restriction has changed. Writing in The Guardian on 6 September, the Home Office Minister, Brandon Lewis, said of the eIDV service: “More than three-quarters of applicants are choosing to use a specially created app to prove their identity. It’s available on Android and we will roll out an Apple version in October once the technology is available”. Access to the NFC capability of iPhones was provided to app developers in iOS 13.1, which was released in late September. And the iOS version of the Home Office app arrived in the Apple Store in mid October.

So, one of the key barriers to the deployment of eIDV systems, as identified by Goode Intelligence, has been removed. Which means that convenient, secure identity verification services, using the latest in facial recognition and liveness technologies, are now accessible by the large majority of citizens with access to a smartphone.

In other words, thanks in part to Apple, the eIDV approach to managing citizen identity is ripening. Perhaps it’s time for public sector agencies to take a bite.

This blog’s writer, Jon Payne, is Director, UK, WorldReach Software Corporation