Recently, we wrote about vaccine passports and how digital identities are quickly becoming the new normal. While countries in other parts of the world have adapted to the regular use of digital identities over the past few years, the idea is still newer to a North American mentality and is unsurprisingly met with some suspicion.
This suspicion is nothing new. For centuries new technology has been met with a cautious glare by many who are concerned about the power that it holds. Air travel was a terrifying concept for years until it became more commercially available, decades after it began. Television was initially dismissed as a fad, and something that was ‘beneath’ those used to performing live and in films. To date, many Canadians are still afraid to put any personal or banking information online because they believe that will instantly put them at risk for fraud, while they fail to realize that their information has already long since been digitized.
The reality is that all of our identities are digitized in some form or another, whether through our bank holding computerized records or our medical information being digitally stored at our doctor’s office. Yet while digital identities are becoming the new norm, those implementing them need to learn to meet the objections and fears around digital identities head-on. The implementation will be significantly smoother if those in charge can help create a positive experience for the end-user, and make them comfortable with the process.
What are some of the common objections to digital identities, and how can we tackle them?
There is a common concern that digital identities will further marginalize some of our most vulnerable populations. Older adults who struggle with technology, low income Canadians who cannot afford a smartphone, the housing insecure, and others who are frequently without identification may all struggle with adopting and maintaining a digital identity.
The irony is that in other countries in the world digital identities are actually breaking down the barriers between rich and poor, and between those who control society and those who struggle to access it. Over a billion people in the world are believed to have no government-issued identification, either due to poverty, poor infrastructure, gender-based restrictions or other issues. Many of these issues can be solved through a digital identity that can capture all citizens equally. Providing them with a digital identity would actually grant better access to social services and encourage everyone to play a role in society.
As with any technology, there is a hesitancy around fraud. Identity fraud has long been a concern, either with using fake pieces of ID or ID fraudulently obtained from others. It has only gotten more sophisticated as we move further online, with password hacking being used to obtain access to sensitive information. Fraudsters can also use identification to impersonate the individual and then gain access to their banking information, medical records, and other sensitive data.
Digital identities are attempting to solve this by introducing a biometric element to identity in many countries. This ties a digital identity to a secondary verification measure, such as an eye scan, or facial or voice recognition technology. This ensures that digital identities do not exist as their own mechanism, but are confirmed by a secondary validation to match their user. Technology has improved to the point where this secondary validation is practically error-free, and its widespread usage would eliminate most instances of identity fraud at their outset.
Privacy concerns around digital identities have been expressed not only by individuals but by large-scale privacy watchdogs as well. There is an overarching concern that simply having a digital identity is an invasion of privacy, and that it would now be far too easy for that identification to fall into the wrong hands. It is assumed that with unfettered access, anyone will be able to access our most sensitive personal information. There is also a common belief that a digital identity would ruin any sense of anonymity that we might enjoy. We will no longer be able to go ‘off the grid,’ or simply remain inconspicuous. It will be difficult to gain mass adoption of digital identities unless these privacy concerns are addressed.
The best solution to address these privacy concerns is a thorough policy and legislative framework. Users need to be broadly educated on the privacy rules around their digital IDs - who has access to them, when they can access them, and how they will be secured. This needs to be accompanied by serious legal consequences for any violations, and the knowledge that there are third-party watchdogs in place who will safeguard these processes. Without this, digital identities will generally be accompanied by an undercurrent of mistrust.
The suggestion that digital identities are unsecure is actually a misconception. The opposite is true - digital identity is actually the most secure form of identification available in society. To the untrained eye, it is nearly impossible to verify the validity of a paper or plastic ID, even if the photo and biographical details look relatively accurate (how many people used an older sibling’s or cousin’s ID to get into an age-restricted location). The ability to tie in biometric features means that systems can be crafted where there is virtually no chance of anyone else using your ID.
The challenge will be in training users on these security features and eliminating some of that mistrust. Those unfamiliar with the technology may worry about their biodata falling into the wrong hands. A strong security framework, again both policy-based and legislative, will help comfort users and confirm that there are strict user guidelines in place for anyone handling digital identities.
Loss of Autonomy
With paper or plastic identities, we are careful about who we let see them. We’ll readily open our wallets when requested by an official, but are rightfully cautious about showing identification to strangers. Our physical pieces of ID give us the feeling of being in control of our information, and we at least have the perception that we control who can access our information and who can’t. We have an inherent belief that we can maintain custody of our own identities by keeping our pieces of ID hidden until we need to show them.
Naturally this leaves many concerned with digital identities falling into the wrong hands. Whether it’s an employee who fraudulently gains access to a database and runs amok, or a government agency that releases identities to other agencies or bodies without warning individuals first, this objection takes on many forms. The best solution is once again a legal and policy framework that protects digital identities similarly to how it addresses privacy and security concerns. This also must be accompanied by rigorous training for any employees tasked with handling digital identities, and careful monitoring of processes to ensure strict policy compliance. Any policy breaches are likely to undermine public confidence in digital identities, so this monitoring is critically important.
At Vaultie we understand that digital identities may take some time to reach widespread adoption in North America. Culturally we are cautious when it comes to major shifts in technology, and may choose to proceed more cautiously. However we know that this technology is going to determine our future moving forward, and we are developing products and services to make the use of digital identities as safe and secure as possible. Contact us today to find out how.