Efforts to deliver RealMe verified identities on mobile phones have been delayed by fears the system could be undermined by emerging photo morphing technology.
Maria Robertson, deputy chief executive service delivery and operations at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), told Parliament's governance and administration committee in February the department had privately trialed real-time on-boarding for its verified identity service, which is now supplied through a physical visit to a Post Shop.
"The reason we’ve trialed it is because of fears of the ability of photo morphing, image mapping, and other things, which, you know, technological advances makes facial biometric something that you can actually manipulate," she said.
"If you think about Photoshop, you can manipulate it."
The key to delivering verified identity wholly online of via mobile phones, she said, could be in "liveness testing" of static images.
"Liveness testing is a whole different thing, which is basically where you’ve supplied an image—let’s say it’s the same one as you use in your passport—and we confirm it’s you by you doing some liveness testing, say, on your mobile device.
"We’re testing that thoroughly to make sure that it actually works because anything under 100 per cent won’t satisfy the public."
RealMe has three services: a login component, address verification, and the RealMe verified account.
Satisfaction levels with the verified identity service, however, are not where they should be. DIA said that was partly because of the requirement to physically attend a Post shop.
"People going into a New Zealand Post shop and standing in a queue and doing all of that stuff and taking
"For our current generation and generations that are coming [that is] quite an inconvenience," Robertson said.
"So we’re looking at, basically, the ability to enrol people in the RealMe verified service in the palm of their hand, but without actually undermining any of the privacy and security requirements to issue a Government-strength identity credential."
DIA chief executive Paul James said RealMe has been an integral part of government's step into digital services and sits in behind many services.
"At the same time, the world’s changing quite quickly in a digital environment and people are finding new and different ways to create identity in their private transactions," he added.
"So we’re part of a group of New Zealand organisations - Digital Identity New Zealand - who are working and thinking about what does the future look like in this space; what’s an ecosystem and what role does RealMe play in that ecosystem?
"At the same time we’re constantly updating RealMe and making sure that it’s responsive and reactive to customer need."
Last March, DIA took charge of relationships with private sector RealMe users back from NZ Post, which had been running that business under contract.
In August it announced instant mobile verification in a beta app called RealMe Now, based around Daon's IdentityX platform. That app is still in the iOS store, but has received fairly dismal reviews, averaging one and a half stars.
In response to a Reseller News query, DIA said the original app was a beta and would not be available for much longer.
"This was launched as beta product as a first step towards a future where customers can take their own photo as part of the process for applying for a RealMe verified identity," DIA said in a statement.
There have been several phases of extending the product to be available to an increasing number of customers:
The app was initially launched as a beta for use by people applying to open a bank account with Kiwibank starting in April 2018.
Next, the RealMe Now app was made available to customers applying for a RealMe verified identity using a New Zealand Passport from August 2018 till February 2019.
"This phase was critical for further improving the customer experience," DIA said. "During this time over 10,000 people used the RealMe Now app to apply for their RealMe verified identity."
Then, in February, web photo capture was launched, eliminating the need for a customer to download the RealMe Now app to complete the photo capture step.
"This option allows customers (applying using an NZ Passport) with the option to take their own photo using the camera on their phone, laptop, tablet or desktop," DIA explained.
The RealMe Now app, therefore, is only used for customers’ applying to open a bank account with Kiwibank as web photo capture has eliminated the need for a specific app to complete self-service photo capture.
Since the launch of web photo capture on 12 February to 30 April, 9,211 customers successfully used the web photo capture option to apply for their verified identity, and 74 per cent of those who applied with their passport used web photo capture.
"Our future plans are to make web photo capture available for an increasing proportion of customers," DIA said.
"Currently, NZ Passport is the most common way for people to apply for a RealMe verified identity. Our future plans are to make this available for customers renewing their RealMe verified identity and people applying using records other than NZ Passport."
These could include a NZ citizenship certificate issued after 2004, NZ immigration details, or NZ birth details.