Governments around the globe, including Dominica, are embedding biometric technology into ID documents. New biometric passports (or e-passports or digital passports) are a combination of paper and electronic passports and contain biometric information that can be used to authenticate the identity of travelers. This passport contains a special chip that contains the holder’s photograph and personal information (e.g., full name, date of birth).
Why are e-Passports Superior to Plastic IDs?
The problem with most plastic forms of ID, much like yesterday’s credit cards, is that they can be forged or digitally manipulated with ease, and counterfeiters can now order high-resolution printing equipment and basic security inks online. They often change the personalized data of an existing ID document through methods such as scratching, cutting, dissolving or using solvents or heat.
Today’s e-passports offer a number of compelling security features that could be baked into other government-issued ID types down the road:
- Intricately designed passport pages, complex watermarks and a data chip
- The biometric chip contains all crucial personal information such as digital signature data, which helps in authenticating the passport
- The biometrics are considered more reliable than a traditional passport photo or a PIN, as it uses personal traits such as facial and fingerprints as primary identification features
- All data stored on an e-passport (including a picture that is stored on the hardcopy of your passport) is encrypted
- Security features which make it more difficult to change data recorded on a passport and to prevent unauthorized reading or skimming of data stored on the e-passport chip
The Intersection of e-Passports & Identity Verification
That chip also holds considerable promise to the world of document-based identity verification. More and more companies are starting to rely on the capture of a government-issued ID (e.g., a driver’s license or passport) and a corroborating selfie. Consumers are asked to take a picture of their ID with their smartphone or computer’s webcam.
Enter NFC, Stage Left
But, this all changes with chip-enabled IDs. Digital identity verification solutions can now scan and capture the information contained within an e-passport’s chip. Apple and Android offer the ability to use their smartphones to read near-field communication (NFC) tags which can, in turn, read the information from the e-passport chips.
NFC is a short-range wireless connectivity standard that uses magnetic field induction to enable communication between devices when they’re touched together or brought within a few centimeters of each other, which then establishes a peer-to-peer network to exchange data. Remember, NFC is based on RFID protocols — the same technology that enables wireless key fobs.
This NFC functionality can be enabled within standard apps running mobile SDKs to deliver superior user experiences, stronger fraud detection/deterrence and highly accurate data extraction. By incorporating this new NFC-reading capability, the identity verification process effectively moves from the magstripe to the EMV era.
How It Works
While the NFC capability can only address a portion of the supported ID documents, it offers significant potential if governments start including chips into other ID types.
Here’s how NFC captures and authenticates e-passports:
- Capture a picture of the e-passport’s data page (i.e., the page with the user’s photo)
- The online identity verification solution then reads and extracts the data from the e-passport’s chip
- If valid, the consumer is verified in seconds
Online identity verification solution providers should be able to extend this chip-reading functionality beyond e-passports to other types of ID documents.
Given the global security landscape and the increased threat of terrorism, it just makes sense to evolve beyond plastic-based IDs to biometric-based e-passports. Together these advanced technologies can effectively combat identity theft, sophisticated fraud and other national security threats — and start to propel us to a more standard method of online identity verification.