In its early days, the internet was full of online avatars and fake profile names. You never knew who you were actually chatting with on AOL online. You could have a completely different persona online and in the actual world.
Today, most people have a social media account that displays their real name, photo and other personal data. Not only do we have the option to bank, apply for jobs and set up government and other services online, it’s often encouraged.
A visit to the brick-and-mortar establishment might include an inquiry from the customer service representative, if you applied online, or a suggestion to check accounts online. When applying online for employment at some organizations, there is an option to link or sign in with your LinkedIn account.
Our digital footprint very much extends into our real life. In the near future, our digital identity may become standard for navigating our daily lives.
Digital identity is used to refer to a person’s online activity, including usernames and passwords, online search activities, purchase history, social media habits and more. Many of these things are public and others can use this information to find out who this person is in the real world. In a way, a digital identity is another facet of a person’s social identity.
With online activity becoming a core way for how we navigate our lives, the next step could be the establishment of a formal digital identification supported by our social security number, birth certificate and citizenship status. Instead of providing a passport or driver’s license to verify our identity, we may one day simply provide our digital ID. These digital IDs would be secured and authenticated by biometric data, passwords, PIN, smart devices or security tokens.
A secure digital ID network can prevent fraud and allow remote access to services, and promotes digitization, which drives efficiency and convenience. It enables paperless, contactless and streamlined processes. With digital identification, you can safely perform online activities such as banking and finance, applying for government and other services, shopping and even accessing healthcare and education.
A digital ID would have a certain amount of personal information attached. You wouldn’t have to constantly fill out applications with the same information.
Instead, you can provide a digital ID and all that personal data is transmitted instantly online.
In the post Covid-19 world, a digital ID is more important than ever as we continue to encourage social distancing.
In January, the World Economic Forum discussed the importance of digital identity post Covid-19, highlighting that digital identity can bring together financial services, e-government (access and use government services like filing taxes, voting, or applying for benefits); healthcare (access insurance, treatment, and someday health devices and wearables), e-commerce and online shopping, as well as for traveling and social interactions.
According to the World Economic Forum, an established digital identity would bring transparency to online interactions and users' control of their data by providing clear audit trails and streamlining how businesses and governments allow people to register and access their services and trade.
The pandemic also highlighted the need for telemedicine and therefore a digital health identity.
We have also seen a growing need for online education and hiring. A lot of the hiring process has moved online. A digital ID can be used to efficiently verify credentials.
Secure digital IDs are already commonly used for specific tasks. For example, many realtors use DocuSign or something similar so that clients can sign documents sent via email in a secure process that speeds up transactions.
Most are also familiar with the e-signature features on Adobe and Microsoft Word.
Apple’s macOS uses a type of digital ID that is secured with a certificate that contains a public key that is viewable to others, and a private key that is kept secret.
A certificate is an attachment to an electronic file that allows the safe transfer of information digitally.
A private key lets you sign electronic documents that others verify using your public key. The private key can decrypt documents that are encrypted by others using your public key.
Your device checks the certificates of websites you visit and, when you submit a signed document, the recipient checks the certificates to make sure they came from your registered device.
While these digital IDs for signing documents are convenient and safe, a true digital ID would have to be formalized and accepted across the board by all entities in the government and private sector. Agreements need to be established that digital forms of identification are just as acceptable as physical ID documents.
First and foremost, users’ privacy must be protected. Users must be assured they are safe from data breaches.
In addition, a unique digital ID must be enforced. An individual should only have one identity within a system.
The World Bank and the UN have been encouraging the use of digital IDs to provide citizens with proof of their legal existence to combat structure poverty, statelessness, and social exclusion.
In August, the British government published the second version of its digital identity trust framework to help its citizens have a safe digital identity.
Cybersecurity experts, however, warn that digital IDs could be a challenge for those who lack technical skills or the latest devices. Some extra effort will need to be made to accommodate this population.
Overall, a digital ID that is properly implemented will help support a digital economy in which everyone, even those of us here in remote regions, can participate.
Jay R. Shedd is the chief marketing officer at IT&E. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry.