ID documents have undergone a number of revolutions in the past 100 years or so, and different printing and manufacturing techniques (holograms, etc.) have already helped to make forgery a more complex endeavor. Today, biometrics and digital data and facilities embody the height of ID technology. A chip embedded in a passport or card securely stores all of the personal data needed to verify our identities such as our marital status and digitalized biometric data (fingerprint, iris, voice, face, etc.).  

Biometric data for one third of the world

Asia leads the field in this respect. In India, the Aadhaar project (iris and fingerprint recognition) will grant secure access to online administrative, insurance, banking, and telecom services to 1bn people. In China, the eID project has issued 1.2bn ID cards that use biometric data (facial recognition) to authenticate citizen identity. In total, almost one third of the human population can be authenticated using their own unique biometric data, and by 2018, there will be 3.5bn electronic identity documents in use around the world.  

But it is not just governments and government bodies that will develop biometric solutions: leaders in the telecom and Web industries also have a role to play. Indeed, 40% of the world’s population is connected to the internet, representing just as many identities to verify as they log on to manage their online life: citizen services, voting, banking, shopping, etc. For smartphone manufacturers and online service providers, customer authentication has never been a more pressing issue.  

Everyone is connected, but is everyone verified?

ID verification is now as much digital as it is physical and as such, ID verification facilities are also changing. With the release of smartphones fitted with fingerprint sensors, there is a major trend for computerization: data written on paper is stored on a chip or in the Cloud. In time, shoppers may come to verify their identities and pay online or in stores by simply letting a card reader scan their fingertip. If the trend continues, will it spell the end of ID cards and passports?  

Not according to Christophe Fontaine, Managing Director of the Identity Business Unit at OT, who believes that hard documents like cards and passports still have a lot of life in them yet.

“The arrival of biometrics at Apple and Samsung shows how the current biometric revolution is picking up pace. Next, we need to know how governments are going to use computerization, in particular when providing citizens with secure access to online services using biometric data. And yet, traditional hard ID documents will not disappear. Firstly, they are not incompatible with biometrics, as we already have electronic passports that have a built-in chip storing digital biometric data. It is easier to carry a passport or ID card than a smartphone that is liable to run out of battery, break, or stop working, and then it’s a question of pride for countries and their citizens, to print their own passports: it’s one of the symbols of belonging to a nation. Lastly, these documents are and shall remain necessary for all border controls. They provide the authorities with a better guarantee of security: it is easier to hack a smartphone than it is a paper document!”