Our identity is a legal key that opens doors

Interview with Marc-Julian Siewert, CEO of Veridos

How is the concept of proof of identity changing in an increasingly digital world, especially in relation to travel?

For several years now, we have seen a clear trend towards the virtualization of government documents. For more and more people around the world, mobile devices have become the go-to solution for almost everything, from banking and insurance to shopping, travel and managing personal information. People increasingly expect to store and use important documents on these devices. So the direction of travel is set – one day we will be able to access all our ID documents completely digitally. Yet although we are still at the beginning of this journey, digital versions are already well established as a supplement to physical documents, serving as an optional proof of identity alongside traditional ID cards. The fact, that there’s not yet a complete replacement is mainly due to the lack of interoperability and standards that the necessary IT infrastructure must guarantee. For example, German police can do little with a digital American driver’s license. But security is also an issue, as the ID card on the smartphone must be at least as tamper-proof and well-protected as its physical counterpart.

These developments will take time, but progress is being made. Travelers will increasingly see the benefits. For example, when they no longer need all the required documents in physical form at the airport gate and can just use their smartphone instead. In some cases, self-check-in terminals are already making air travel more convenient. In conjunction with travelers’ biometric data, they are reducing the number of points of contact with human staff and thus significantly lower waiting times.

What are the challenges of new technologies and solutions in the area of border control for travelers?

Border control is always a balancing act between security and convenience. On the one hand, in an increasingly interconnected world, we are faced with a growing number of travelers, which poses a logistical challenge in areas with limited space, such as airports. Automation and advanced technologies are needed for efficient processing of the growing number of passengers in a small area. On the other hand, security must be ensured. If you want to know who is entering the country and when, you need technological solutions that can identify large numbers of travelers in a short period of time.

The trade-off between security and an easy, convenient travel experience is at times made against the backdrop of privacy, which goes hand in hand with regulatory requirements. Finding the best solution for all parties involved is certainly one of the major challenges in the area of border control. There already are many innovative approaches, such as biometric corridors, which use biometrics to identify and verify pre-registered travelers as they pass through. The e-gates and self-check-in terminals in use today are milestones on the road to the secure and convenient travel experience of the future. Ultimately, however, it all depends on how people accept new technologies.

What challenges do you see on the road to widespread acceptance and use of digital identity solutions, and how can they be overcome?

When we talk about adoption of new technologies, we always talk about fundamental trust. This doesn’t happen overnight, but rather over time – similar to areas such as online banking or authorization procedures using facial scans or fingerprints. These solutions are commonplace today because they are considered secure and proven. Digital identity solutions will follow a similar route because they provide real value to users and make their lives easier. The technologies are also constantly evolving, simplifying processes and making them easier to use.

However, trust in new approaches such as an all-digital ID card is not a given. The onus is on vendors and governments to deliver secure and mature solutions. We are well on our way.

What is the Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) concept and how will it impact the identity solutions of the future?

Self-sovereign identity puts individual users back in control of their own data. With SSI, people can decide what information they want to share, when, and with whom. Unlike traditional identity credentials, such as an ID card, which expose a lot of sensitive data, the solution enables selective release of individual pieces of information that are needed for a specific application. This zero-knowledge proofing approach enables citizens to effectively protect themselves against data misuse and data mining. They retain control over their personal data while proving their identity in a secure and verifiable manner.

SSI also offers significant benefits at the digital level, such as identification in the Internet of Things. For example, drivers can identify themselves at e-charging stations without active intervention on their part. A self-determined identity not only ensures privacy, but also convenient and secure authentication in an increasingly connected world.

How do you see the connection between digital identity solutions and the strengthening of human rights and the democratization of government processes?
Our identity is a legal key that not only opens doors to important government services, but also ensures our participation in society. Without valid proof of identity, people cannot vote in elections or access services such as education or banking. The issues of human rights and equality are therefore closely linked to ensuring everyone has a legally valid identity and can identify themselves. This is also the stated goal of the United Nations – by 2030, everyone should have the means to register their identity. With the growth of e-government services and offerings, the focus on digital identities will increase.

Sustainability is an important issue in many industries, especially in travel and tourism. How have identity solutions adapted to this issue and what progress has been made?

Veridos, for example, has not only initiated the transformation of all internal processes to become sustainable, but also intensified its research into sustainable ID documents to reduce its own carbon footprint and replace plastic-based passports with environmentally friendly, recyclable alternatives. The key is to use recycled polycarbonate or polycarbonate derived from natural sources such as corn or sugar cane. What may seem like a drop in the bucket is actually a huge gain for the environment – after all, all the ePassports that expire in just one year are equivalent to the distance from Paris to Zurich when lined up side by side. We see enormous potential here that we can exploit with our sustainable processes. Digitizing the documents will also help reduce the high demand for physical ePassports in the long term and save resources.