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What is government ID verification?

Learn how government ID verification works, how it's evolving, and more.

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⚡ Key takeaways
  • Government ID verification is the process of requesting, analyzing, and validating a piece of government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.
  • The document can be scrutinized for signs of fraud, and, in some circumstances, the information can be verified against the issuing agency’s database.
  • Although it can offer a high level of assurance, you may not want to solely rely on government ID verification to vet users.

Many people carry a driver’s license or state identification card and are accustomed to showing it to verify their identity or age. Although the online verification process is a little more complex than shining a black light on the ID or holding it up to the person’s face, electronic government-issued ID verification has rapidly become a common option for identity verification.  

What is government ID verification?

Government ID verification is the process of verifying that a government-issued ID is authentic and supports a person’s claim that they are who they say they are. These ID checks can happen in person, such as when you’re going through security at the airport and TSA checks your driver’s license. They can also be part of a digital identity verification process, which often requires a user to submit a photo of their government ID and go through selfie verification with liveness checks.

Before we get into how government ID verification works, a note on terminology: Some businesses consider government ID verifications a type of document verification, along with address, employment, education, and other document-based verification. At Persona, we classify government ID verification as its own category of verification because we use a distinct set of checks to verify government IDs.   

How does government ID verification work? 

The online government ID verification process can usually be broken into three steps:

  1. Collect and analyze the ID: A user takes or uploads a photo of an approved government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, passport, permanent resident card, or identification card. The image may be pre-processed and analyzed to verify that it meets the requirements for verification. For example, the verification system may check to ensure the entire ID was captured and the image isn’t blurry. 
  2. Extract and compare data: Next, the system can extract data from the image, such as the person’s name and address, and compare it to the information that the person submitted in their application. Other information about the document can also be collected, such as its expiration date and identification number. Different extraction methods can lead to varying levels of accuracy, and discrepancies could point to errors or potential fraud. 
  3. Validate the ID: Finally, the system conducts validation checks to verify that the document is authentic and the image wasn’t edited. These may include verifying the security features of the government ID, such as watermarks, holograms, and stamps. Depending on the IDV solution, businesses may also be able to request additional checks, such as comparing the information that’s extracted from a driver’s license against the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) database (available in participating states).

Often, automated identity verifications use this process to quickly authenticate and validate government IDs and users — Persona’s international government-issued ID verification can take just seconds. 

These speedy verifications can offer a great customer experience while reducing the risk of fraud and helping businesses comply with Know Your Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) requirements. They may also be the only cost-effective way for growing and large companies to manage a high or inconsistent volume of identification verification requests — instead of having team members review every application, they can automate the process and only pass cases that need another look to manual review

Progress in online government ID verification

The steps above describe a standard online government ID verification process. But the standard may change if electronic government identification becomes more popular. 

For example, in some states, residents can go through a government ID verification process to request a mobile driver’s license (mDL). The mDLs are encrypted and stored within state-sponsored apps or mobile wallets, and they include the data points you find on a physical driver’s license. Your business can then request someone’s mDL to verify their identity. And because mDL apps often require biometrics (e.g., a face or fingerprint scan) to release the data, you could choose to eliminate selfie verification from your flow to reduce friction. 

Similarly, passports that have an NFC (near-field communication) chip, also called e-passports, allow NFC-capable devices (including most modern smartphones) to securely and directly download the passport’s information. As a result, businesses can request a picture of a person’s passport and then use an NFC connection to quickly verify the information. 

Businesses that want to verify someone’s identity with a government ID may be able to reduce friction, increase security, and minimize false negatives using mDL or e-passport verifications. It can also be relatively easy to set up for businesses that already have mobile integrations for their verification process. 

Benefits of government ID verification 

Organizations commonly conduct government ID verification checks when they require a high level of assurance, such as when someone opens a new account at a financial institution. But requesting a government ID can also be appropriate and important in other industries, such as online marketplaces and dating apps.

Some of the benefits of using government-issued IDs for verification include: 

  • Commonly and readily available: Most people carry a form of government ID that they can use to verify their identity. 
  • Anti-counterfeiting technology: Some government agencies have developed and incorporated anti-counterfeiting protections into their identification cards, which could make them harder to forge than other types of documents. 
  • A reliable and verifiable issuer: The issuing government agency will likely require its own identity verification process before creating an identification card, and depending on your identity verification partner, you may be able to quickly validate an ID’s information through the appropriate database verifications to weed out fake IDs. 
  • Well-known formatting: National and state identification cards have a prescribed format, making it easier for automated systems to detect and extract data from the document. 
  • Useful with age verification: Most government-issued IDs have a date of birth, which means you can use them to verify someone’s age.

Shortcomings of government ID verification 

Although it can be helpful, government ID verification has drawbacks.

  • Added friction: Any time you ask someone for additional information, the added friction and hesitancy around sharing personal information could lead to dropoffs. And taking or uploading a picture of a government ID plus a selfie takes more effort and time than some other verification options, such as database verifications.  
  • They’re not immune to fraud: Government IDs aren’t foolproof, and bad actors can create and buy forged documents. Requiring users to take a photo (rather than upload an image) and pairing the verification with a selfie can help detect some types of fraud. But deepfakes, masks, and other schemes can still sometimes get past these protections. 
  • Potential lack of equity: Although many people have a government ID, some do not. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Digital Identity Guidelines allows a trusted referee to assist with identity verification as an alternative — a process that businesses that value equitable access may want to consider implementing.

As with other types of document verification, there’s also the chance that someone uploads a blurry or incomplete picture of their government ID and has trouble completing the process. However, that’s not necessarily a shortcoming of the identification itself. And newer options, such as mDL verification, can help eliminate this potential drawback.

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Government ID verification as part of a holistic approach

Most businesses don’t depend on a single type of verification. And rightly so. A one-size-fits-all approach can cause unneeded friction to trustworthy customers, let through too many bad actors, and limit how many customers you can onboard. For example, if you only accept government IDs as a form of identification and a potential user doesn’t have one. 

A layered approach incorporating government ID verification could be a better solution. Persona’s Dynamic Flow allows you to create a custom flow for web and mobile platforms that changes based on real-time risk signals. You can even edit and optimize your flow with the no-code editor based on native analytics. 

Interested in learning more? Start for free or get a demo today.

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