There are 4.5 million notaries public in the U. S., thousands of times as many as in any other country. Their primary function is to attest to the identity of signers and the validity of their signatures on documents. Notaries typically require two forms of paper identification for each certification, but make no independent investigation to confirm the information and add no tangible assurance supporting their attestation.
Within the remarkable technology recently announced by Apple, where a fingerprint is sampled and internalized within the iPhone, there are the beginnings of an identity assurance industry and the beginning of the end of the usefulness of notaries.
Three factor authentication is the holy grail of identification: what a person has, what a person knows, and what a person is.
At base, notaries rely on only a single factor for authentication, what a person has, typically two pieces of paper allegedly created by a government agency. Produce the documents, smile confidently, pay a few dollars, and your signature is certified as yours and that you are who the documents call for you to be.
In the future customers will be able to purchase tangible assurance for any important transaction, backed by a financial guarantee of appropriate size. The guarantee will be issued by a company with which the customer will have passed a background check the intensity of which will determined by the maximum level of assurance requested. Initial confirmation of identities will require more time, energy and money but will be rare, perhaps only accomplished once, followed by less intense renewals.
Once the initial confirmation protocol is completed and identity established, the assurance company will establish an account number, enable a secure password, and, importantly, tie the account and therefore the certification to the customer’s iPhone and its related fingerprint.
Later certification of identity to others will be simple, fast, and certain. The customer will request certification of identity by using a fingerprint to open the iPhone and connect to the account. By inputting the password the customer will authorize the assurance firm to create and issue an ID code to certify and financially guarantee the identification. In less than two seconds the process will have confirmed all three levels of authentication: the person is in possession of a confirmed device, with knowledge of a confirmed password, and (by way the the fingerprint) is the person claiming the identity.
The magic of the iPhone and Apple’s innovative security for the fingerprint technology, scaling and the efficiencies of technology will combine to produce a stronger model of commercial assurance than today’s “ma and pa” solution of millions of notaries public.