Last updated 3 June 2020 - Average reading time: 8 minutes
Secure identification is a crucial element in the design of economic and social policies.
This value is due to its multiple implications in human development, particularly in the areas of poverty reduction, education, health, and governance.
In this web dossier, we present the importance of having a secure legal identity and how it can be created and managed for the benefits of a nation, its residents and nationals.
We will then detail Thales' contribution in this process and present the company’s biometric ID solutions to create what is known as foundational ID infrastructures.
Let’s jump right in.
legal identity

Legal identity, a fundamental human right

Right now, there are 7.5 billion people on Earth, of which 1.1 billion cannot securely prove their identity.

And every year, 140 million babies are born, of which 40 million go unregistered.

As such, these citizens are deprived of social benefits, such as education and health; their civil rights to vote and travel; and are excluded from the economy because they cannot sign up for bank accounts, loans, or mobile phone subscriptions.

We believe this is unacceptable, and we are not alone.

Indeed, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 states that by 2030, legal identity should be provided for all the world's citizens, including free birth registration.

We all need a unique identity to prove who we are, to exercise our fundamental rights, and to facilitate access to all kinds of services. 

What is identity?
It's a paradox. Identity is what makes us unique and identical to others. Identity has come to express the difference between us. But it was initially a concept that expressed our equality. 
In 1793, French mathematician and philosopher, Nicolas de Condorcet laid the foundations of "social mathematics". He studied the relationship between the individual and the collective to formalize the foundations of the democratic system. He chose the mathematical term “Identity” to represent the algebraic concept of equality among citizens in terms of their legal rights and obligations: one nation and multiple individuals who, by “identically” accepting the rules of the community, attain the status of citizens. 
Identity is a principle with two dimensions. It’s the link between the individual and the collective.

Proof of identity

Where citizens can prove their identity, populations are empowered, and lives are improved.

The possession of a valid form of ID fosters inclusion and enables better access to a variety of services. When citizens can identify themselves, reliable and continuous data is generated to help governments with policymaking and to measure the progress of development.

It also increases efficiency and drives innovation for both the public and private sectors. 

Let's discover the building blocks for a more inclusive legal identity.

Personal identification

Access to personal identification must be universal, from birth to death, and free from discrimination. It must be inclusive; there must be no barriers to access and use, and a unique and accurate identity for everyone must be provided.

It is vital to create a platform that is interoperable and responsive to the diverse needs of all users while safeguarding data privacy, security, and user rights. 

Joseph Atick, Executive Chairman of ID4Africa, “Having an identity in society is a proxy for inclusion.”

ID solutions adapted to unique needs.

Civil identification* and ID solutions are tailored to the specific requirements of the application in question. They need to be user-friendly and easy to set up, they must be price-sensitive, and they must encourage fast adoption.

They are used for a vast range of applications including:

  • Travel documents,
  • Social security schemes,
  • Voter registration and cards,
  • Driver licenses,
  • Pension and taxation schemes,
  • Banking, insurance,
  • Mobile telephony.

Access to these services must be protected by identity verification systems that are adapted to the security requirements of each service, but which are also convenient for users. 

* Civil Identification: the registration, verification, and management of personal data of citizens to create a unique civil identity. The civil identification includes all of the data of civil registration and can also include a national identification number and/or biometric data. The civil identification serves as a basis for identity verification (i.e. passport, or national identity document).

Fragmented identification infrastructures

On the government side, the ID scheme space tends to be a fragmented one, with multiple overlapping and incompatible identity systems.

In general, there is a lack of coordination between civil registration * and identity, and with other state systems that have their registration and credential systems. Typically each ministry has its registration infrastructure, identification, and verification processes.

Users are mindful of the high cost of adding additional applications. Meanwhile, citizens are put off by the inconvenience of having to enrol multiple times in multiple programs.

* Civil registration is the administrative process for recording the occurrence and characteristics of vital events (notably births and deaths) as defined by decree, law, or regulation. It establishes and provides legal documents of such events. These breeder documents or core identity documents prove the existence of a person and serve as the basis for obtaining other identification documents. The birth certificate is the core identity document most widely used.

These records are also an essential source of vital statistics and the backbone for efficient public administration—more on CRVS (civil registration and vital statistics).

Moreover, a proportion of the population is excluded because of excessive charges, indirect costs, and convoluted processes, or simply because they don't have physical access to the service. 

And public acceptance?

It should be noted that requirements for identity protection, security and the fight against fraud – archetypal collective and state matters - are well accepted.

How can foundational ID systems help strengthen the institutional framework?

Foundational ID systems are general-purpose identity platforms that are designed to support all forms of ID use cases expected down the line.

There are no multiple or redundant registrations, they offer improved service delivery and economies of scale, and as identity becomes a readily available commodity, a new ecosystem of different applications naturally emerges.

Foundational identification systems provide the means for identification in the digital world but also in people's daily lives whenever they need to perform a transaction.


civil registration

From identification to legal identity and legal ID

Establishing and using an individual's identity goes through a transparent process or lifecycle.

  • Firstly, the user's identity is registered through the capture of biographical and biometric data that is unique to the person.
  • It is validated to ensure the uniqueness of the request to establish an accurate digital identity.
  • This unique identity is then verified against existing data in internal or external systems.
  • The biographical and biometric data is authenticated against physical documents or databases,
  • then a unique identity is created in the foundational system, and a unique identity number (UIN) is assigned to the person. 

Trusting ID through ID verification and eKYC services

If a person wants to open a bank account or collect their pension, service providers must be sure of their identity. And when filling in forms, entities also need to confirm the ages, addresses, and phone numbers provided.

Thanks to up-to-date identity data and biometrics, public or private service providers can benefit from trusted identity verification and on-line identification services (aka eKYC) as they access either a government-issued ID or information that are government-verified and certified.

The result?

This approach is combining a high level of trust and convenience for stakeholders. 

This combination, in turn, boosts service usage and transaction numbers by establishing a secure connection between all stakeholders whether they're standing side-by-side or are hundreds of kilometres apart.

Why is biometrics key to a trusted and secure ID?

Biometrics, such as the face, fingerprint, or iris, is used to provide secure identification and authentication of an individual. 

In this context, they can be used for two main purposes: 

  • Firstly, to identify an individual within a large population to determine if he or she is unique, known as 1: N matching.
  • Secondly, to authenticate an individual against a record to determine if he or she is who they claim to be, or 1:1 matching.

Face biometrics, or ID photos, can be captured at any age. Iris scanning can be performed from the age of six upwards, and fingerprints are used from the age of 12.

In other words:

Biometric data are, in such situations, robust attributes that make it possible to secure the link between the physical person and the civil ID document.


government issued id

Government-issued IDs: citizenship and cohesion

For a citizen, the primary usage of a legal ID is for a human identification check-in a face to face situation, when signing up for a new mobile subscription, or entering a public building, for example.

One might have imagined that such documents would eventually disappear, replaced by pure biometrics, but ID documents are still a vital piece of the identity puzzle.

They are invaluable for simple one-to-one verification (like a 1:1 match in biometrics). Without a document, a system would have to search for an ID identity through the whole identity database (1: N match in biometrics) that would cost time and require high computing power. 

Let's not forget that these government-issued IDs not only allow states to identify their citizens but also to distinguish them from foreign nationals. 

These may, for whatever political or economic reasons, seek to fraudulently benefit from rights reserved to citizens of that particular state.

ID solutions play an essential role in facilitating interactions between individuals and governments or private institutions to operate in a structured society.

Without a robust means of proving one's identity, exercising one's fundamental rights, claiming entitlements, accessing a range of governmental services, and conducting many daily activities could be hampered. 

Thales' ID solutions mission statement

Thales provides secure, robust, and reliable digital identity solutions that provide end-to-end functionality. 

They are modular, and integrated and capable of registering, managing, and verifying unique, trusted, and secure official identities for the entire population of a country.

There's more.

Our extensive experience in a range of contexts, from high-tech modern cities to rural environments in developing countries, allows us to tailor the perfect solution for the needs of different citizens and governments. 

Identity registration is what we do.

Thales has the expertise and technology to securely and unambiguously establish unique official digital identities for all individuals after capturing and verifying their biographic and biometric data.

Our technology allows us to automate the various steps involved in the identity registration process to increase efficiency, negate human errors, and reduce fraud.

Thanks to Thales' ID solutions, populations can fully participate in political, economic, and social life in their respective countries.

Thales' long experience in identity systems 

Thales has been in the biometrics business since 1990, establishing a wealth of expertise in hardware, software, and services.

We have over 200 references in more than 80 countries around the world, with tens of thousands of identities validated every single day. 

Our expertise in multi-biometric fusion is unrivalled, and we are the world leader in accuracy and global performance of matching algorithms.

Thales' ID management solutions can handle more than 30 references with a central system.

We can provide a single system for all registries, including CRVS, population databases, voter registers, travel document databases, and more.

Our solutions are available, scalable, and interoperable, offering flexible business process lifecycle management. Thales has over 30 fixed and mobile ID verification customers around the world, taking advantage of our expansive multi-form factor product catalogue for a fast, flexible, and secure ID verification solution.

Identity management is no longer about merely issuing ID cards.

It now involves administrating databases containing large amounts of personal and sensitive information. 

And this data will only continue to grow as more and more eServices increasingly rely on trusted digital identities to authenticate their use.

More resources on civil registration, identification, and civil ID

Now it’s your turn

What do you think?

Collaboration with customers lies at the heart of our process, and we will be pleased to share with you some of our best practices in civil registration and identification.

If you have a question on these topics, please leave a comment in the box below.

We look forward to hearing from you.