North Carolina to Pilot Secure Electronic ID

The objective is to bring the well-established trust of a physical driver's license into the online environment as a low-cost, readily available, highly reliable means of assuring that people are who they claim to be in an online setting.

by / October 8, 2014

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded the North Carolina Departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services a pilot grant to create an electronic ID (eID) intended to operate with the same security and privacy online as driver licenses and state-issued IDs do in person. Under the pilot, North Carolina will receive $1.47 million over the next two years to test the security, viability and interoperability of an eID that promotes “confidence, privacy, choice and innovation.”

The objective of the public-private partnership is to bring the well-established trust of a physical driver's license into the online environment as a low-cost, readily available, highly reliable means of assuring that people are who they claim to be in an online setting. Under the pilot, the state will work with MorphoTrust to leverage the North Carolina driver license, state ID documents and system of record to create an eID for those applying for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) program online. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for people to appear in person to apply for FNS benefits, reducing costs to the state while providing applicants with faster, easier access to the benefits they need. 

“We’re trying to bring a level of security and assurance to the online setting that hasn’t been available yet, and to do it in a way that’s easy to use,” said Mark DiFraia, senior director of Solutions Strategy for MorphoTrust USA. “People understand that when they want to conduct a transaction in person, they typically reach into their pocket and pull out their driver’s license and present it to somebody. That person does an evaluation of the document and says, ‘OK, that's good enough for me to do this transaction with you.’ Porting that over to an online setting makes a lot of sense.”

Online service providers in government and industry won't put certain transactions online because they don't really know the person at the other end of the transaction, said Jeremy Grant, senior executive advisor for Identity Management for the National Strategy for Trusted Identities and Cyber Space (NSTIC). "The risk model is such that these things are mired in the paper world,” he added. NSTIC was set up by the White House in 2011 to focus on addressing problems tied to identity and cyber security and operates as part of NIST.

The North Carolina grant is one of three pilot grants NIST awarded in September. In all, the organization has awarded 15 pilot grants over the last three years. The pilots are designed to demonstrate real-world examples of how advanced identity solutions can enable improved security, convenience, and privacy. 

Two of the previously awarded pilot grants have gone to states – one to Michigan and one to Pennsylvania. Both states currently have pilots under way.

“All the grants awarded to state government involve how you can leverage existing information to help enable new types of citizen-facing services,” said Grant. “I think the issue of looking for ways to leverage existing identity-proofing processes in state government is something that we probably want to tackle from a few different angles and see which ones work the best.”

North Carolina will take a unique approach to linking individuals back to the trust and proofing procedure that is completed in the process of issuing a driver’s licenses or state-issued ID – the state will use photo matching technology. 

“There are a lot of solutions that use data matching,” said DiFraia. “We’re taking it a step further here by using photo matching to actually ensure that the person related to that record is in fact the person that’s attempting to create this new eID.”

DiFraia said there is also opportunity to leverage what is learned from the FNS pilot with other state programs. “For example, there’s a growing problem with tax return fraud at the federal and state level that could potentially be addressed by something like this,” he said.

“Gov. McCrory is often seen holding a cell phone in the air and saying, ‘We need to make state services as easy to get to on my phone as paying a bill or checking my bank account or looking up a movie time,’” said David Ulmer, chief information officer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. “We're trying to confirm who it is we're talking to so that we can provide goods and services to them in a more efficient manner that reduces fraud, reduces costs and improves customer service.”

Similarly, the North Carolina pilot could have implications for the commercial world. “We’d like to think that showing some level of success, even in these government-use cases, has a lot of promise into the commercial side,” DiFraia said. “Taking some of the risk out of the system could help us actually expand the breadth of what can be done online to help grow the online economy.”

In addition to the North Carolina Departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services, MorphoTrust will partner with The University of Texas at Austin Center for Identity, Gluu, Toopher, miiCard and Privacy Engineer Debra Diener for the pilot.

Justine Brown Contributing Writer