DHS moves forward with digital ID project

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) announced Monday it has awarded contracts to six tech companies to develop a digital ID wallet.

Geared towards immigrants, travelers

At this point, the digital ID wallet scheme appears to target immigrants and travelers, who will be able to use the wallet to store digital forms of identification, proofs of citizenship, and other documents.

“DHS is the authoritative source of some of the most highly valued credentials issued by the U.S. Federal Government for cross-border travel, demonstrating employment eligibility, residency status and citizenship,” said S&T’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program Technical Director Anil John in a press release. “The capabilities developed under this solicitation will ensure that those credentials can be stored securely and verified properly while preserving the privacy of individuals using openly developed standards that are globally acceptable, highly secure, and accessible to all.”

Credence ID, Hushmesh, Netis d.o.o., Procivis, SpruceID, and Ubiqu are the six startups that received contracts. Each has received nearly $200,000 for this phase. Companies that complete all four phases of the project stand to receive up to $1.7 million each.

Concerns about mandates

The DHS claims the digital ID will incorporate the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a set of technical standards supposedly designed to protect the privacy of the digital ID holder. 

However, like digital ID wallets currently being rolled out by other countries, public concern lies not so much with fears of being hacked but fears of government mandates. Digital IDs make it easier for authorities to impose restrictions and surveillance. And while many governments assure taxpayers that their digital ID wallets will only show necessary data, the concern is that governments can at any point decide which data are necessary to show. Critics point to the COVID-19 vaccine passports, seen as the precursors to digital IDs.