Facing the Facts about Digital Identity Interfaces

Last updated: 04 September 2018

As individuals, proof of legal identity is the key to accessing entitlements and services in today’s fast-changing world. It is also a conduit for conveying and protecting many of our rights and benefits as citizens. For governments, breakthroughs in identification allow for increased efficiency and transparency in securing and delivering services, the reduction in graft and leakage related to data transfer or payment remittance, and increased security around vital statistics on balance. Even the capacity to respond to large-scale epidemics and natural disasters is markedly enhanced by a robust, inclusive digital identification network centered on digital IDs. As digital identification systems are technology based, and new technologies are evolving at an exponential rate, establishing a new digital ID framework may render existing credential interfaces – or at least the way we currently think about the design elements of government-issued credentials – obsolete.

Digital Identity Interfaces
A well-constructed digital ID interface allows the user to specify the information that is shared in a given transaction.

Looks aren’t everything when it comes to securing your digital identity

There are many ways to gauge how “good” or “great” a digital ID on your smartphone or wearable device is, and its visual appeal can be, for better or worse, a go-to method. In a product-centered industry, whether or not the intentional “look and feel” of a software application ought to inspire overall adoption and consumer buying behavior, it often does. When it comes to designing and, most importantly, securing personal information with a digital credential, DDL stands apart in the flexibility and functionality of its carefully rendered user interface. Furthermore, the crucial element in an effective DDL solution is the way that information is securely exchanged between licensee and verifier across a shared technological threshold or boundary.

Above all, a digital ID user interface connects and protects the exchange between users and verifiers and the personal data that is regulated and populated by state transportation and licensing authorities. In this way, DDLs’ design won’t ultimately mirror the look – and certainly not the feel – of traditional credentials currently in circulation. As the paradigm shifts from physical enterprise to digital, the security concerns around the emerging technology similarly shift, and the design features of the DDL will evolve accordingly. These advancements, particularly when combined with related digital technologies such as online and mobile payment systems, boarding passes, and insurance documents, to name a few, have the potential to leapfrog the inefficiencies and insecurities of physical identification systems altogether.

DDL security
The user always initiates the sharing of personal information from their DDL. 


Digital verification is key

A fully-realized digital verification ecosystem won’t rely on a verifier visually scanning the screen of a cellular device displaying the DDL to confirm its validity, the way that the surface of a traditional credential is eyeballed by verifiers in the field. Rather, an end-to-end digital authentication infrastructure for verifying digital identities will equip verifiers with an easily-integrated, nimble verification setup for validating the credential. This structure takes the guesswork out of the transaction with the DDL user, ensuring that the person holding the digital ID on their mobile or wearable device is who they say they are, and that their information is indeed valid.

Digital verification of the DDL
Verifiers are equipped with an easily-integrated, nimble verification setup for validating the DDL.

Additionally, merchants and vendors benefit from a streamlined process for reducing the slow “searching” for relevant information on a traditional license, which can be particularly challenging with out-of-state credentials. Instead, the verification screen promptly displays only the relevant information for a given transaction from the DDL. Likewise, DDL-holders can limit the personal information that is exposed during routine transactions by using their digital credential as opposed to a traditional license.

The way forward with digital ID design

According to the Mobile Driver’s License Functional Needs White Paper published by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, while initial marketplace adoption and integration may require that the first generation of DDLs resemble the visual appearance of a physical DL, it recommends that, “…care should be taken that such an approach does not compromise the security features of the mDL.” In other words, there is a potential risk associated with having the design of a digital credential visually resemble the traditional driver’s license too closely for too long after adoption. Rather, by changing up the look of the credential on a mobile device, the digital security features inherent in the DDL are emphasized, and they are then much less likely to be overlooked or bypassed by users or verifiers in the field.

Finally, as an important nod to issuing parties, AAMVA’s white paper goes on to recommend that when designing a digital ID interface, “whenever PII is displayed on a carrier, the information [should] be rendered using basic text, and the image be shown without any ‘security features’ [apparent on traditional credentials]. This could be packaged within a standard ‘wrapper’ that would be common for all mDLs issued by the issuing jurisdiction. The ‘wrapper’ can then be used for branding purposes.”

Thus the recommendation is to design a DDL interface that doesn’t merely mimic the features of a traditional DL – which aren’t practical or sufficient in a digital context at any rate – but rather supports and reinforces the enhanced security features that digital offers. The digital ID will remain aesthetically customizable, and uphold the standards adopted by the issuing party within a given jurisdiction.

What do you think?

Would you be confident validating your ID using a DDL which doesn’t resemble a traditional driver’s license? What are some of your favorite app interface designs? What do you like most about digital interfaces on wearable technology? Share your thoughts below!

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