RealMe an opportunity for online efficiencies

People should soon be able to apply for new passports online and open accounts at banks they haven't banked with before from the comfort of their computer, thanks to a government identity service, RealMe, which launched yesterday.

However, Internal Affairs, which is managing the free and voluntary service, and key contractor New Zealand Post, admitted the dream of being able to have a single logon and password for all secure online services delivered by public and private sector organisations in New Zealand remains some way from becoming reality.

Adult New Zealanders have been able to renew passports online since November, but Internal Affairs identity manager David Philp said RealMe should let the department extend that service so the 50,000 or so new first-time adult passports issued each year could also be ordered over the web.

NZ Post's RealMe spokeswoman, Mandy Smith, said it was talking to all the major banks, including Kiwibank, which it owns.

They could use RealMe to let new customers open bank accounts online and for the identity checks required by money-laundering legislation.

Smith hoped an agreement would be reached with Kiwibank within a month. An ASB Bank spokeswoman said it planned to evaluate RealMe "within the next financial year".

New passport and bank account applications are just examples of transactions which Internal Affairs and NZ Post hope RealMe can be used for online.

Internal Affairs has so far invested $76.8 million of taxpayers' money in RealMe and in the Government Logon Service, which already offers a single logon to government websites.

The Government Logon Service lets people choose a single username and password that they can then use to access a wide variety of online services provided by the Government.

RealMe is designed to let people prove they are who they say they are, online.

To enrol, people must register their mobile phone, username and password online and then visit one of about 56 specially equipped Postshops where they will be digitally photographed. The photograph is checked against passport records to confirm the person's identity.

Organisations that want to use two-factor authentication to provide additional security can text a code to the mobile phone which RealMe users will then need to enter online in addition to their username and password to prove their identity each time they access the online service in question.

Private companies need to pay a fee each time they use RealMe to validate someone's identity, the size of which neither NZ Post nor Internal Affairs would disclose.

Smith said banks were unlikely to do away with their existing systems of internet banking usernames and passwords in favour of RealMe in the near term, as they had already made their own investments in those systems.

Instead, they were likely to first use the service to provide additional services in situations where they might not have any other means to reliably validate someone's identity.