Author: Alicia Jiménez González, Manager of the European Project Office
This text was originally published in the Autumn 2023 edition of EU Research journal
The Covid-19 pandemic revealed that public administration relies too heavily on paper identification and in-person checks to authenticate someone to receive a service, either by sending copies of identification, or images of documents by email back and forth, or by requiring a person to be in person at a location to identify him or her.
To speed up processing and eliminate administrative bottlenecks, it will be necessary to replace these slow and outdated verification methods. This is the aim of the Impulse (Identity Management in PUbLic SErvices) project, in which Gradiant is the coordinator of 16 entities from nine different countries and in which we develop and evaluate a new innovative and universal eID format.
The members of this consortium have been working on the requirements, acceptance levels and impact of the eID method. In doing so, we have taken into account regulatory, technical and operational needs. The result is an e-identity proposal, which we have developed following the Self-Sufficient Identity approach.
The citizen owns his data
A unique approach to eID is proposed where the traditional third-party ownership and management of identification data, for example, biometric data archived with a government department, is replaced by citizen ownership, so people can own and control their own personal data. This approach can be made possible with blockchain technology. Blockchain technology presents an elegant solution with peer-validated data.
In IMPULSE, with the use of blockchain, you are the owner of your data. Furthermore, we included smart contracts in the project that allow people to manage their consent on how they use the different data of their identity. This also complies with GDPR requirements.
Currently, in order for a citizen to access virtual public service platforms, the system checks their identity to verify through a username and password, PIN or electronic signature. In these methods, user data belongs to a third party, the entity responsible for validating an identity.
Blockchain, facial recognition and applied AI
The use of blockchain allows the person to be the owner of their identity data, which means that this data can never be misused, abused, sold or compromised. Facial recognition and optical character recognition technologies are used to generate the electronic ID. If the recognition does not match between the selfie taken for verification and the image of the person on the ID card, the service provider will have to further validate the ID card.
Once the electronic ID card is generated, a simple selfie takes a single image for verification. The facial biometrics analysis is powered by an AI algorithm that can detect proof of life or if something is not authentic with the image.
AI for facial recognition and document scanning are technologies already widely accepted by the population. However, the result of surveys conducted by the project indicated that there may be somewhat negative perceptions of blockchain due to the association and distrust towards cryptocurrency. Despite this, significant advantages and benefits become evident when blockchain is used in the context of preserving privacy and control over personal identification.
In essence, the IMPULSE initiative has a double benefit for both public services and citizens. For the first, because the technology used helps to reduce the workload of civil servants and administrations. For citizens, because it allows citizens to have safer and easier access to public services.
As we have explained in this article, at IMPULSE we are not only developing, we are also evaluating the tool. To do so, we are carrying out several case studies with different European entities and administrations. We will talk about these pilot tests in the next article.
The IMPULSE consortium
The European IMPULSE partnership also involves Lappeenrannan-Lahden Teknillinen Yliopisto (Finland); Agency for European Integration and Economic Development (Austria); Association du Pole du Competitivite Transactions Electroniques Securisees – DIH (France); Aarhus Municipality (Denmark); Departamento de Seguridad del Gobierno Vasco (Spain); Gijón City Council (Spain); Municipality of Peshtera (Bulgaria); City of Reykjavik, Department of Services and Operations (Iceland); Unione italiana delle Camere di commercio, industria, artigianato e agricoltura (Italy); CyberEthics Lab Srls (Italy); ALiCE Biometrics (Spain); Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Germany); Tree Technology SA (Spain); Infocert S. p.A. (Italy); and DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung e. V. (Germany).
The IMPULSE project has been approved under the call Transformative impact of disruptive technologies in public services (DT-TRANSFORMATIONS-02-2018-2019-2020).