Mobile Phones as Identity Cards

Some countries, such as Belgium, have deployed national identity cards, and many others will follow suit. There was an intriguing discussion on mobile identity at the European e-Identity Conference in The Hague.

Mobile phones are an interesting alternative to conventional cards. Technically, they work well, as they can hold a smart card. There are a number of benefits:

  • Most people carry phones with them.
  • They can be used for payments, and users prefer phones over cards for this function:
    • New technologies such as Near Field Communications can support "customer-present" payments.
    • SMS authentication can support "customer-not-present" payments.
  • Loss of a phone is usually recognized quickly.
  • Information on phones can be remotely disabled.

This seems to have worthy potential as a different way to handle identity cards.

... Steve Kille

One Comment

  1. Tim Haugen
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 5:00 AM | Permalink

    It would require a paradigm shift in how seriously people “protect” their phones. When people lose a Dirver’s License (in USA) or ID card, they take it seriously and make addressing the risk exposure a top priority. When people lose their cell phone, they’re frustrated and irritated, but don’t typically rush to resolve shutting down service, etc. On the other hand, the ability to secure the “ID” by using an electronic device would be an improvement.

  2. Ralph Ehlers
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 5:17 AM | Permalink

    Hi Steve,
    I am rather sceptical about this idea to use the phone SIM card as an e-identity card:

    SIM cards are not easily removed from a phone and phones are gadgets, which frequently are lost, destroyed or even borrowed (with SIM card).
    Many people still don’t have a mobile phone or even refuse to own one, i.p. elderly people and persons of low income.
    Many people have phones with prepaid cards and/or switch their provides if a cheaper offer comes along.
    Some people own several mobile phones.
    Parents have to purchase mobile phones for smaller children under their name and own the device.

    All of this strikes me as not being appropriate for an electronic identity card, which in the end will be a very important ‘document’, requiring highly secure handling procedures.
    Lastly, the privacy of free movement would dissolve: every private and public agency with access to the systems data of the cellular phone system would be able to check wherever any individual has moved.


  3. Steve Kille
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 5:18 AM | Permalink


    I really appreciate this reply, and what you show is a good example of how this can work in practice. I understand there is similar activity in other countries (e.g., Hong Kong, Sweden) and there it is also banking led. My sense is that these systems are working well and are popular with the users. Do you think that this is the case in Turkey?

    Tim Haugen and Ralph Ehlers made a number of quite valid observations about the security of a mobile phone based system, which seem to me to be very reasonable objections. I was wondering if you have any experience that could be useful in explaining why these objections are not stopping deployment in Turkey?



  4. Sridhar
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 3:09 PM | Permalink

    Yes as one says it requires a paradigm shift and change of mind. A Phot card need not be an Identity card but a loyalty card or a discount card. Such cards have multiple sides.Genuiness of the cards are ascertained.

    We have doen these cards which also link to sms.


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