Opinion

Passports, Near-Field Communication (NFC) and the Digital ID Standard

Published April 15, 2021

Near-Field Communication (NFC) could be the key to the ultimate in security for the legal industry. Last month, HM Land Registry published their requirements for their Digital ID Standard, which is an ‘alternative higher standard of identity check’. If a conveyancer uses this standard of check, HM Land Registry will view this as proof that the conveyancer fulfilled their obligation to verify a client's ID.

Included in the Digital ID Standard was the requirement that a digital ID check must include the use of Near-Field Communication technology, or NFC. To some, the word NFC may not mean a lot and look like classic tech jargon, so we wanted to explain exactly what it is in layperson's terms and highlight just how useful the tech can be.

What is Near-Field Communication?

NFC technology is essentially the ability for two electronic devices to communicate via physical distance or a very close distance. The ‘communication’ of the devices depends on the context in which the tech is used. For instance, NFC is the same technology that gives you the ability to pay for things with your contactless credit or debit card, and let yourself into your flat with a key fob. 

Broadly speaking, NFC technology is probably a lot more common than you would think, with it being used in a variety of ways in everyday life. The NFC technology that HM Land Registry will require for their Digital ID Standard is simply the ability for a mobile device and a passport to ‘communicate’.

This will be achieved by a client holding their phone close to their passport. All UK passports issued from 2006 contain NFC chips.  The provider's technology will extract the data held on the chip embedded within the passport. This will enable the firm to make checks against this information.

The most important thing to note about NFC is that HM Land Registry requires providers to read both the digital signature AND the signing key of a client’s document if they are to meet the Digital ID Standard. This is a point that firms need to verify with prospective suppliers. If the NFC technology used by that provider doesn’t meet this requirement, then the check will not meet the Digital ID Standard and the conveyancer still remains at liability for recourse. 

Where is Near-Field Communication technology in use?

As mentioned, NFC technology is already used widely, with people utilising the technology to do their grocery shopping day in, day out. Passport NFC chip reading however, is a less common use of the technology. This being said, a surprising amount of people will have carried out an NFC passport scan without realising it. 

Most UK airports now have machines present at the border that are able to scan passports via NFC technology. Passengers entering the UK, and other countries across the world, are faced with machines when they land that appear to ‘magically’ scan their passport. Passengers are requested to place their passport down face down on a scanner. 

This scanner is reading the chip on the passport and verifying that the passport is a genuine document, just like a Digital ID Standard-approved check will be doing. 

Why is Near-Field Communication more secure?

NFC checks will offer a higher level of security for conveyancers, with the provider’s technology verifying that the document is real and then also allowing the image in the document to be matched up to a selfie when the client completes the facial recognition step of the Digital ID Standard-approved check.

Government-grade technology is being pushed by the HM Land Registry to strengthen the security of client onboarding. NFC technology will be easy to use, and allow conveyancers to work in confidence that their clients ID has been verified.

As lawyers, you shouldn’t have to be tech experts. If you need more guidance around the Digital ID Standard and the tech required, you can check out our blog here, or get in touch at [email protected]

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