In 2012, Smithers Pira published a major new study called ‘Ten-year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Personal Identification to 2022’1. The target of the study was to identify the 25 major technologies and innovations that will influence the market, and to analyse their potential impact and the likelihood of them happening in the next ten years. The report identifies technologies which include security printing inks, biometrics, national identity registries, encoded taggants, high-resolution optical effects and geolocation. In this article, Patrick Guthmann discusses a number of those technologies in a nutshell.

The term ‘disruptive technology’ was first coined in 1995 by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen to describe a new, emerging technology that unexpectedly displaces an established one. Disruptive technologies can come from inside or outside the market. An example of such a technology would be the launch of CDs at a time when only vinyl records were available. Non-disruptive technologies are technologies that provide incremental improvements without modifying the status of the market.

Top 25 disruptive technologies
Revolutions in the mobile devices market, nanotechnologies and biometrics will have a great influence on the personal identification market. Privacy issues and the way they are handled will also play a significant role. New fields in which identification is required will emerge, and new types of identification models will be needed to address all the formats of identification necessary for the IT environment. Table 1 identifies the top 25 ranking of disruptive technologies, with a short definition.

Table 1 - Ranking of disruptive technologies and their definitions
Disruptive technologyDefinition
1Document tracking with 2D barcode and digital watermarkDocuments which contain a 2D barcode and a covert feature such as a digital watermark that will connect with a cloud-based database via a smartphone for security controls.
2Use of the ID document as a self-authentication device of biometric dataArtefact metrics or unclonable features are used to identify a unique document which will provide access to biometric data stored in a remote database.
3Autonomous display cards from UINT and NagraIDMethod of building cards with display and audio features, improved autonomy and easy battery recharge.
4Human microchip implants Microchips implanted under the skin for remote identification.
5Biometric civil registriesCivil registries containing sufficient biometric data to identify each citizen from its date of registration into the database.
6The Internet of ThingsInterconnection of objects of our everyday life, communicating with other objects and with humans.
7Enhanced face recognition systemsUser-friendly, non-intrusive face recognition solutions.
8API and identity management systems such as OAuthAPI management refers to the process of publishing and managing application programming interfaces (APIs).
9Energy harvesting and increased autonomy for portable devicesInvestigating new types of batteries, and ways to recharge them by using energy collected from our environment.
10New Secure ElementsPhysical part of the microcomponent where sensible data processing takes place.
11Zero-order diffraction deviceStriking effects with deep rectangular profile gratings, due to the polarisation of incident white light.
12Digital fingerprints of identification documentsSecure databases giving technical information about official documents and Globalchecker providing an authentication of the image of a personalised document.
13Geolocation as a security featureSatellite geolocation of mobile devices and human microchip implants.
14Quantum cryptography in mobile communicationsSecuring communications using photons instead of electricity to carry data.
15New generations of smartphones and tabletsPossible evolutions of the portable communication tools we use today.
16Wireless sensor networksGlobal integration of wireless sensor networks using an efficient resource management scheme.
17Atomic-level data storage Reducing the size necessary to store one bit so as to reduce the size of memory devices and increase the storage capacity in a given size of memory module.
18Massive data storage systemsVarious nanostorage projects.
19WiLink 8.0, the new generation of multichannel microcontrollers
WiFi, GNSS, NFC, Bluetooth and FM transmit/receive applications by Texas Instruments.
20Standardised TEE environmentTrusted execution environment (TEE), a separate execution environment that runs alongside a Rich OS (operating system) such as Android.
21Laser ablation or perforation through an OVD or a DOVIDPersonalisation of the bearer’s picture through a hologram or OVI.
22Taggants for personal identification
Special markers included in paper, inks or holograms.
23Nanotubes in paperCarbon nanotubes used as batteries.
243M’s two-colour Floating ImageNovel technology providing optical effects showing images floating on top or below the surface of the security overlay.
25Optical computers and terabit optical communications
Ultra high-speed data transfer and new generations of computers partially using light to transfer data between different components of the system.

The following commentary examines the significance of a number of disruptive technologies selected from the list.

Affordable and tamper-resistant solutions
Great importance should be given to affordable and tamper-resistant solutions that enable access to secure databases where there is no special need to use sophisticated credentials. These documents do not need electronic components, as authentication and identification will be made using mobile communication devices in secure cloud-based environments. Personal data and covert features such as digital watermarks will be combined in order to build an encrypted master key stored in a 2D barcode. This key will be able to provide access to personal data that cannot easily be stored on an ID document, such as short videos, 3D parallax portraits and voice samples.
However, there is room as well for ultra-sophisticated credentials offering new authentication services through coded sound signals and innovative embedded battery solutions. Furthermore, even if there is still a great resistance in a large number of countries to the idea of building large national biometric databases, it appears that such databases could have a huge impact on the way trust is built in electronic transactions.

Optical security features
The personal identification market will be affected by disruptive technologies, not only at the level of the credentials themselves, with new types emerging, but also by what will happen in IT and internet technologies. As far as traditional credentials are concerned, we shall see the content of substrates evolve with the inclusion of new types of security threads, watermarks and machine readable taggants in paper that will offer new possibilities for identification of individual documents. Inks, too, will offer machine-readable properties with the inclusion of taggants. Diffractive Optically Variable Image Devices (DOVIDs) will try to be more intelligible for the public, because there is a recognition that there is little to be gained by making optical effects ever more complex if end users are not able to understand the effects and authenticate DOVIDs. Efforts will focus on offering clear and simple effects such as the colour-change effect by rotation provided by the diffractive ID device (DID) from Hologram Industries (zero-order technology), which cannot be reproduced by any classic means available to counterfeiters. Other optical security features will develop, too, requiring very sophisticated knowledge to manufacture and special production tools, for instance the two-colour Floating Image from 3M. The feature shows a striking movement effect of patterns that appear on top and below the surface of a protective overlay.

Levels of difficulty
New personalisation solutions will be developed combing several levels of difficulty in order to deter counterfeiters. The goal is to link several physical elements of the document together so as to make any tamper attempt visually obvious. Laser ablation or perforation through a DOVID or an OVI pattern of the bearer’s picture can make life very difficult for the counterfeiter because it is not possible to reuse a genuine DOVID on another document, and it is nearly impossible to generate or modify a laser-perforated picture with the quality of, for example, an ImagePerf picture from IAI.

Different ways of using credentials
The way credentials are used will change as well; in future they could be used as self-authentication devices for biometric data. By reading artefact metrics (as described by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)) or unclonable physical features present on each document, it will be possible to create a code stored, for example, in a 2D barcode that also contains the serial number of the document, which will link to a remote database. Once the dialogue starts it will be possible to retrieve biometric information that is not stored on the document itself, via the smartphone used to contact the database. The biometric data could be non-intrusive, such as 3D parallax photograph or voice samples. If using a digital watermark, the data contained in the digital watermark could be combined with the rest of the data relating to the ID document and encrypted in a 2D barcode. Decryption of the image taken by the smartphone would be performed by accessing the secure website. The decrypted data would in turn be made clearly visible on the smartphone.

figure 1

Human microchip implants
New types of credentials could include body-implanted chips, though these do not yet have the support of the general public. It is not clear whether this technology will really develop in the near future but if it does take off, it will have a huge impact. Even if the chip is not implanted in our body, it is in effect already attached to most of us through the mobile phones and tablets we carry. These devices will become a constant companion, because they will provide services far beyond those of a telephone. 

Energy harvesting
Energy harvesting and new types of long-lasting batteries will help smart phones to offer nearly uninterrupted service all day long. These devices will benefit from increased data storage capacities, terabit optical communications and new secure elements that will safeguard the processing of personal data within the device itself. Communications will be protected by quantum cryptography and the adoption of international standards for strong authentication. There will be a need to develop a kind of electronic identity to be used in different cases where identity must be checked. Data will be organised so as to make access to sensitive data only possible for authorised people. With the rise of wireless sensor networks (WSN) and geolocation, users of mobile devices must be able to protect their privacy if they so wish. For both traditional and new types of credentials, identification will rely on biometric features, as these are still the most practical way to identify a person. New ultra-high-performance face-recognition algorithms will help the widespread adoption of this technology, which most people do not consider as a breach of privacy.

The above covers in a nutshell some of the major technologies and innovations listed in the report ‘Ten-year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Personal Identification to 2022’, a study by Smithers Pira published in 2012. These technologies are predicted to have major influence on the personal ID market in the next ten years.

1 For further information about the report please contact: Bill Allen (Europe/Asia) at or Heather Adams (US) at


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Patrick Guthmann was an associate consultant at Smithers Pira. He is an expert in all aspects relating to security documents, their personalisation systems, and related organisations and workflow procedures. During his 11 years of collaboration with François-Charles Oberthur Security Printing and 8 years with Imprimerie Nationale of France Patrick has been involved in numerous international projects, and has lead technical developments of ID documents in, among others, Belgium, Lebanon, Panama, Senegal, Seychelles, Lithuania, Georgia, and in particular France.

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