Are physical documents defunct?

Some say that drive to introducing digital identity could leave physical documents defunct. There's no quick fix and it's a debate that well worth having. To join the discussion and have our say, click on the pop-up box below.

Yes, says George, The Fraud Prevention Guru

When was the last time you actually used a physical identity document?

Paper is the bane of our existence and we could all easily bin those filing cabinets full of old bank statements, warranties and other aging paperwork that have probably sat forgotten for years – despite looking like they might be important.
The paperless society is pretty much here now and we’ve moved beyond ‘peak documents’. We’re all needlessly drowning in paper and as we all make transactions in the digitised world shouldn’t we all be well beyond worrying about retaining paper copies of documents?
Business, industry, commerce and government are already setting the bar when it comes to using digitised documents. You access your mobile and utility accounts online and from this year no one has a physical tax disc in their car.
The same is true for identity. So many of our ‘traditional’ physical identity documents can now easily be put online. Added to that, retaining hard copies of bank statements, utility bills and credit card receipts can be lost or stolen. The impact of identity theft based on this information can be enormous – both in time to sort out and correct, but to recover lost money and man-hours. Your online identity is made up of multiple layers of information about you creating a unique identity which can be harder to replicate than a single identity document.
Shred those documents and go digital – it’s safer, smarter and less time-consuming. Millions of people are already happy to rely on their virtual identities and biometrics, instead of relying on physical documents to assert their identity.

No, says Penny, The Identity Verification Master

Paper documents, especially identity documents, aren’t going anywhere.

There are still a wide range of key documents including birth or death certificates, marriage and divorce documents, adoption and immigration papers, wills, trusts, and powers of attorney – to name just a few.
There is likely to always be a cohort of society that isn’t comfortable being completely digital, or don’t regard themselves as especially computer-savvy – regardless of whether they own a smartphone or tablet. Therefore we should always ensure all-comers are catered for – irrespective of the cost.

Especially in identity, required to access good, services, benefits and financial services, we must be mindful of inclusivity. While the relentless move to get everyone and everything online continues apace, we all have an obligation to ensure all segments of our society are fully included and don’t get left behind by the drive to digital.

Not everyone can be authenticated electronically – as there isn’t enough known data about them – so there must be an alternative way to prove their identity to avoid them being excluded as organisations have a regulatory obligation to ensure identity is proven under AML guidelines.

And the fraud argument? Well, online identities can be faked and stolen in the same way documents can. The latest technology embedded in our identity documents, such as biometrics in our passports, continually makes it harder for fraudsters to fake these documents.
There will always be a need for a definitive ‘identity’ and right now, and for the foreseeable future this will be a physical document owned by the individual.