What the ID of tomorrow may look like

Few joys remain untouched by the necessity of identity verification. With its ubiquitous presence, the call for heightened security, improved accessibility, and seamless authentication resonates loudly for businesses and individuals alike. In response, a tool, or perhaps a reinvented vision of an old one, is imperative. Could it be a QR code, once confined to routine applications, and now poised to redefine the very essence of identity documents?

identity documents

Organizations around the globe are grappling with identity fraud. According to a survey conducted by Regula, a staggering 69% of businesses acknowledge identity fraud detection as a critical issue. This underscores the pressing need for new security features in IDs.

While advanced and sophisticated elements might come to mind, simple measures can also enable combatting the pervasive problem of identity document forgery more effectively, thereby securing business operations and protecting customers and citizens.

Let’s explore QR codes. Whether you download an app, buy a ticket, get contact information, apply for a service, or many other things, you are very likely to start by scanning a QR code.

Now, we also have them in identity documents, for instance in the Austrian national ID card. And it appears to be a real game-changer. I would even dare to say that a QR code is an ideal addition to an identity document and shows one of the possible directions in which IDs will probably develop. Let me show you this feature in close-up.

One for all: The essence of QR-coded identity documents

A QR code in an identity document stores the personal data of its holder, such as name, gender, citizenship, date of birth, ID card number, etc. If we take the Austrian ID card as an example, we’ll find that its QR code also contains the holder’s portrait.

This minor yet important detail, the portrait (albeit a black-and-white one in the Austrian ID card), makes the QR code the essence of the identity document. Even if there were no other data zones in the ID, the QR code would be enough to identify and verify the person. In theory, a person might never need a physical document on hand, since they have this QR code, saved on mobile for instance.

Building trust through digital signatures

The QR code data is signed with digital certificates generated by the issuing authority. This signature is created with the help of the same cryptographic algorithms that are employed for signing data in RFID chips in electronic IDs. Therefore, its authenticity can be verified with passive authentication. Plus, this verification method is currently considered to be one of the most secure.

Such trustworthiness enhances the capabilities of remote identity verification without any compromises on security and reliability. If a person isn’t in possession of modern technologies (such as NFC, which is needed to verify a chip) and has just an old smartphone or a web camera, they can still undergo comprehensive verification by scanning the QR code.

Since it stores all the vital personal data, including the photo, it’s feasible to verify both the individual and their document. Moreover, by obtaining an official document portrait, an organization can initiate a liveness check to ensure that they’re dealing with the same real person as in the ID.

Will QR codes replace physical documents?

The great variety of identity documents that we have today, with all their current types and formats, is nothing but a decades-long legacy. There are several generations of people living on the Earth, from different countries with different backgrounds and documents issued in different periods of time. It would take tons of time and resources to convert this plethora of documents to one new feature. Even on the national level, this task is hardly feasible, let alone on an international level.

Furthermore, each new security feature in identity documents is added to provide the highest level of protection from counterfeiting and increase the difficulty of identity fraud. That is why everyone is eager to introduce new features into IDs, but no one wants to remove the existing ones. The Austrian ID card, for example, contains a bundle of security features, including the tried-and-true RFID chip.

Final thoughts: Navigating technical limitations

There is probably one disadvantage of a QR code: the size is limited to 4 kilobytes. That is why the Austrian ID card’s QR code, for example, contains a black-and-white photo, not a color one. At the moment, it’s not feasible to add any other data to the QR code; otherwise, it would cover the whole surface of a document.

Still, the advantages of a QR code outweigh the technical limitations. It adds security and convenience, both when issuing and verifying ID documents. A QR code can be integrated into nearly any medium: paper, plastic, digital screen, etc. It facilitates trustworthy verification in remote scenarios, which tend to prevail now and will continue in the future.

And if identity document development eventually culminated in QR codes, it would be very handy, wouldn’t it? An ID that is always at your fingertips—just tap it, and you get access to everything.

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