ID-4-PAPD: Greasing our Development Wheels (Part 3)


What Make ID Systems Thick?

Are you among those who think that an identification registry is all about ID cards? If yes, then think again; because a physical ID card is only a small part of ID systems. As I will present here below, identification systems have many components that combine to make IDs an important part of our lives today. For this article I want to focus on the three components that I consider most essential – photo ID, biometrics and verification – and show how these contribute to the value of ID system.

Last week we focused on the basis for ID systems; in other words, why is it that authentic identification has become so important to human societies today? Essentially, we said that a huge human population, the need to do business faster, and the fact that people travel far from their resident communities have made reliable identification a must. This week we take the discussion further to look at the identification system itself. What are the important parts of it and how does each part work?

What Photo IDs Do

A physical identification document that people carry in their wallets or purses is the practical aspect of most identification systems. This document is what many people see; so in a sense it serves as the ‘ambassador’ of the entire system. For the majority of systems, this physical document is a plastic card with a photo and other important information of the holder of the document. However, in some cases it is neither a plastic nor a photo document. For example, the United States of America for a long time issued its most popular federal ID, called the social security card, in the form of a small piece of paper with no photo of the card owner. Therefore, a complete identification of the owner required showing the social security card along with another approved photo ID card, such as a state-issued driver’s license.

By itself, a photo ID card is not very useful today. For example, a simple laminated photo ID with no security features is easy for anyone to produce and therefore cannot make people certain of the identity of the bearer. But even if the ID card itself has very great security features, it cannot be trusted to provide true identity, if the process through which the card is produced is weak. This is how biometrics come into the modern identification picture.

How Biometric Deduplication Works?

Several years ago, scientists discovered that human beings are similar in many ways, but very different in some ways. They found that certain aspects of each person make that person different from every other individual who is alive today. Among some of the things that are very, very different from one person to another are details of the fingerprints, iris, face, and voice. Using computers and other devices, scientists have found ways to collect and store the details of these characteristics from people. This process has made it possible to uniquely identify people, and unique identification makes ID systems very thick today.

So, if you come to register at the National Identification Registry, the first thing that we will do is to collect your fingerprints, which are your biometrics. Next, we compare your fingerprints with all the other fingerprints that are stored in our computer system to see if your fingerprints are already in the system. This is called biometric de-duplication, which means we want to make sure that you are not in the system twice, to prevent duplication. If your fingerprints are not found in the system, it means that you are registering for the first time; therefore, the system will accept your registration. However, if your fingerprints are found in the system because you had registered before, the computers will reject the new registration.

When your registration is accepted, the computer gives you a 10-digit ID number, which belongs to you and only you. This means that no two persons have the same ID number, and no one person has more than one number.  

IDs Talk Through Verification

Today’s IDs can talk, in a sense – a computer sense. This ability of IDs has changed the way we do business and made it difficult for people to use fake IDs. For example, if you present your ID card or give your ID number to a bank teller, a customer service representative at a telecommunications company or an immigration officer, a computer from that institution can ask the NIR’s big computer to confirm that ID is genuine or authentic. If your ID is correct, our computer will talk back and confirm it; but if your ID is not correct, our computer will not recognize it.  This means that your ID has been rejected and other actions could be taken to prevent this from happening again. In this way, we can say that the ID can communicate through the verification process.  

Wrapping up for Today

Modern ID systems have much more to them than a physical card. In fact, some ID systems do not use physical cards. But when cards are used, they can have many complex features that make them valuable and difficult to counterfeit. Beyond cards, biometrics and verification are other tools that give people the peace of mind when dealing with IDs. Biometrics make sure that each ID holder is a different person and verification helps to confirm that the presenter of the ID is actually the true owner.

Next week we will look at how modern ID systems can help governments safe huge sums of money through payroll cleaning.


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