Seeing technological race between document counterfeiters and protection elements manufacturers, we can get an impression that we are entering perilous times when anything can be fake a nobody´s authenticity is sure. We could think that the Internet world, where a 50-year man can be nicknamed as the 12-year girl, is just a beginning of a long-term general trend.
But the reality is more complicated, and it is entirely possible we are entering quite safe times, regarding authentication and identity protection.
If we can define something like a golden age of certainty about everybody´s identity, it was centuries ago when people did not have any ID document. They did not have ID documents because they did not need to authenticate because they knew each other. Everybody met just a limited circle of people. Identification of a foreigner was easy, based on his accent and details of his behaviour. Estimating his origin was natural.
Of course, authentication of a foreigner was impossible but nobody cared. A newcomer needed to count with initial distrust. Either somebody undertook for him or he needed to live together with local people for some time. Otherwise he was approached with caution.
After the industrial revolution, the world changed and got smaller. Meeting people from elsewhere was suddenly a part of the ordinary experience. People from different regions moved to the same cities, where nobody knew the identity and personal history of the others. It is now difficult to even imagine the deepness of this change. An enormous space was created for criminal acts and breaking the rules generally. Card cheaters, marriage impostors and many other new „professions“ appeared.
It is logical that authorities started to issue authentication documents. They were just papers at the beginning. As counterfeiters targeted them, protection elements were added. A race thus began that has continued until know. In the first phase, the protection elements proved who is the issuer of the document, saying nothing about its holder and integrity of its content. The invention of photography opened a way for creating linkage between a document and the authenticated person. Protection against non-authorised changes started to be added later.
In Czech countries, from 1867 „legitimation tickets“ were issued. From 1919 Czechoslovak ID documents with personal photographs were issued. It was voluntary; most people did not have any identity document. General mandatory identity documents were introduced by racists but it very likely they just accelerated the general trend.
There were a massive number of counterfeiting attacks, and the race has accelerated. The documents developed from naive, vulnerable papers to the current generation of polycarbonate cards protected with high-resolution holograms, microholograms and other elements that are out of reach of counterfeiters. The manufacturers also implement regular innovation to keep their advantage over counterfeiters.
To sum up. For the first time in history, technologies and procedures are available, which – if applied systematically – enable creating an environment where you can have full trust in the identity of persons equipped with the proper authentication document. There is still a considerable number of attacks, but most of them focus on outdated ID documents or count with extreme inattentiveness of inspectors.
Je samozřejmě otázka, zda budou pokročilé technologie a postupy opravdu systematicky aplikovány. Lze si snadno představit, že se objeví hnutí bojující proti diskriminaci osob bez pasu a občanského průkazu, nebo že bude zformovány jiná překážky důslednému prokazování totožnosti. Nicméně je slušná šance, že jsme na cestě ke světu, kde bude jisté, koho máme před sebou, i když toho člověka vidíme úplně poprvé.
It is still not sure whether these technologies and processes will be applied. It is not difficult to image a political movement fighting against „discrimination against people without ID documents“ or other obstacles against law enforcement. But there is still quite good chance that we are on the way to the world with full trust of the identity of every newcomer.
By the way, have you noticed that biometry was not mentioned in this article? Even if it worked perfectly, it would help authorities, not ordinary people.