Exploring digital ID security via airline boarding passes
Airline boarding passes are a good place to start because today, travelers using mobile boarding passes must still present a physical ID to the TSA, diminishing the convenience of the digital pass. The TSA must then visually verify physical IDs, a process that depends solely on the ability of a TSA officer to quickly identify and validate the hundreds of different security features, like holographic or UV markings, used on IDs from around the world. Allowing travelers to present a digital ID and boarding pass from one application could make airport security checks significantly faster and more effective. They remove the potential for human error and offer for the first time at airport security a true verification of identity credentials, instead of just the assertion of legitimacy.
The example of airport security is especially tangible because so many Americans already use mobile boarding passes, but the potential benefit of digital IDs is much bigger than a few minutes’ less time spent in airport security.
If digital credentials carried identity and health insurance information, for example, the process of filling out medical forms could be as simple as scanning a QR code. Users would open their ID app, indicate that they are verifying their identity with a healthcare provider, and the app could transfer their medical history and other information, proof of ID and health insurance information simultaneously. That would simplify complex paperwork for regular citizens, help healthcare providers verify insurance coverage, increase the accuracy of medical history information and even reduce paper waste.
The same packaging of personal information within secure credentials could have a transformative effect on online transactions, too. Today, payments made online are quite vulnerable to fraud, as there’s no convenient way to verify that the person entering credit card details is supposed to have them. Much like writing “Ask for ID” on the back of physical credit cards, digital ID users could require online merchants to check their IDs digitally. However, unlike writing “Ask for ID” on a card, digital ID verification could be automated so the ID check can’t be skipped and, again, the use of cryptographic keys for authentication offers a true verification. Consumers, merchants and banks alike would be protected from the fastest-growing fraud threat today.
In a post-Equifax, post-Mirai, post-ID-security world, citizens want to take back control of their personal information. Digital IDs can renew citizens’ confidence in their personal security by giving them more control over who sees what information, and in doing so would simplify interactions with government agencies and many other types of organizations, both in the physical world and online.
As state governments explore this technology further it’s important that federal agencies and businesses recognize the need for a ubiquitous, secure, digital format for identity credentials. Federal support for digital IDs in airports, for enrollment in programs like Medicare or even as backups to other forms of identification can spur wider development of interoperable digital credentials that will simplify modern life and re-secure personal information, which today is all-too-accessible on dark corners of the internet.