Microsoft's Kim Cameron writes on his Identity blog:

And now for something refreshingly different:  an innovative company that is doing identity right. 

I’m talking about a British outfit called Touch2Id.  Their concept is really simple.  They offer young people a smart card that can be used to prove they are old enough to drink alcohol.  The technology is now well beyond the “proof of concept” phase - in fact its use in Wiltshire, England is being expanded based on its initial success.

  • To register, people present their ID documents and, once verified, a template of their fingerprint is stored on a Touch2Id card that is immediately given to them. 
  • When they go to a bar, they wave their card over a machine similar to a credit card reader, and press their finger on the machine.  If their finger matches the template on their card, the lights come on and they can walk on in.

   What’s great here is:

  • Merchants don’t have to worry about making mistakes.  The age vetting process is stringent and fake IDs are weeded out by experts.
  • Young people don’t have to worry about being discriminated against (or being embarassed) just because they “look young”
  • No identifying information is released to the merchant.  No name, age or photo appears on (or is stored on) the card.
  • The movements of the young person are not tracked.
  • There is no central database assembled that contains the fingerprints of innocent people
  • The fingerprint template remains the property of the person with the fingerprint - there is no privacy issue or security honeypot.
  • Kids cannot lend their card to a friend - the friend’s finger would not match the fingerprint template.
  • If the card is lost or stolen, it won’t work any more
  • The templates on the card are digitally signed and can’t be tampered with

I met the man behind the Touch2Id, Giles Sergant, at the recent EEMA meeting in London.

Being a skeptic versed in the (mis) use of biometrics in identity - especially the fingerprinting of our kids - I was initially more than skeptical. 

But Giles has done his homework (even auditing the course given by privacy experts Gus Hosein and Simon Davies at the London School of Economics).  The better I understood the approach he has taken, the more impressed I was.

Eventually I even agreed to enroll so as to get a feeling for what the experience was like.  The verdict:  amazing.  Its a lovely piece of minimalistic engineering, with no unnecessary moving parts or ugly underbelly.    If I look strangely euphoric in the photo that was taken it is because I was thoroughly surprised by seeing something so good.

Since then, Giles has already added an alternate form factor - an NFC sticker people can put on their mobile phone so they don’t actually need to carry around an additional artifact.  It will be fascinating to watch how young people respond to this initiative, which Giles is trying to grow from the bottom up.  More info on the Facebook page.