New Zealand’s Efforts to Facilitate Secure Online Transactions Using Verified Identities
Next to its powerhouse neighbor, Australia, the country of New Zealand may seem insignificant. However, despite its small population (4.4 million) and size, it has reinvented itself over the past 30 years from an agrarian economy dependent on British trade to a modern, industrialized, free-market economy. As a testament to its success, New Zealand ranks a respectable 71st place in terms of gross domestic product among the 230 nations tracked in the CIA World Factbook.
What this Asia-Pacific nation may lack in size it more than makes up for in terms of identity management innovation. Beginning in 2006, the New Zealand government launched the igovt service, originally designed to manage vital statistics data such as births, deaths, and marriages. As the use of igovt grew and its potential to streamline online government services became more apparent, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Electronic Identity Verification Act into law in 2012. This Act prescribes the way in which the newly-created RealMe service can access citizens’ personal information using igovt for the purposes of electronic identity verification (eIDV) by government services and the private sector.
Backed by the New Zealand government and launched in July 2013, RealMe is provided in cooperation with the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and New Zealand Post. When igovt was first created, the focus was primarily on modernizing government services by providing safe and easy access online using verified logons. With the coming into force of the Electronic Identity Verification Act, businesses such as financial institutions can now use RealMe to carry out electronic customer due diligence and stay in compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) and countering the funding of terrorism (CFT) rules.
There are two levels of RealMe accounts: verified and unverified. The key difference between the two is that while an unverified account can only be used as a universal login to access online services, a verified account can actually be used online as proof of identity.
Creating a basic unverified RealMe account is simple. All that is required is an email address, username, mobile phone number, password, and three security questions with answers. Providing your name and address are not required.
In order to set up a verified account, a person must first create a login and apply online. Once an application number is received by email and text message, the person must then proceed to a post office outlet with the number and government-issued identity documents to have their photo taken. A person’s confirmed home address can also be added to the account by being verified after entering an online code provided in a letter sent by mail. Similar to New Zealand passports, accounts must be renewed every five years.
Currently, RealMe logins are accepted mainly by municipal and national government services in New Zealand. Financial services businesses are still reluctant to adopt RealMe, as only two banks and one foreign exchange company use the service. However, since it is a relatively new service, it may still take some time before the traditionally tech-adverse financial services industry comes on board.
Of course, with any new implementation of universal digital identification, there are always concerns of privacy. RealMe has addressed these concerns on several levels. First and foremost, RealMe uses two-factor authentication by sending a unique code to the account owner’s phone every time someone chooses to share their information with an organization using the service. In addition, the Electronic Identity Verification Act makes it very clear precisely how organizations may use the personal information provided through the service and for which purposes. The account owner has complete and full control over what information is shared, when it is shared, and with whom it is shared. They can also use their online account to check at any time what information has been shared with which organizations.
New Zealand has gone to great lengths to ensure that this national online identity initiative will be successful. The government has learned from the experiences of Australia and the United Kingdom and has worked closely with the national privacy commissioner to ensure that potential public concerns and issues are adequately addressed.
However, despite the tremendous investment of time and resources into developing RealMe, user adoption is an issue. A recent DIA annual review revealed that account signups had fallen drastically short of targeted goals. The department had set a goal of 50,000 to 100,000 new verified accounts for the 2014 financial year, but instead, there were only 15,212. During the same period, 532,591 new basic accounts were added.
Although RealMe still has yet to gain widespread adoption by New Zealanders and lacks traction as a leading data source for eIDV, there is still a definite need for reliable identity verification of citizens by businesses both within and outside New Zealand.
GlobalGateway, Trulioo’s eIDV solution, provides real-time identity verification for organizations transacting with New Zealand citizens online. With access to unique and reliable data sources such as credit headers, government records, and driver’s licenses, GlobalGateway has excellent coverage for New Zealand and over 40 other countries worldwide.