Telegram‘s encrypted messaging service has proved more popular with users than with communication-monitoring governments, so it’s no shock that the developer wants to help users bypass another longstanding government hurdle. The just-announced Passport will store digital versions of government-issued IDs in the cloud so that they can be easily shared with supported services.
On the surface, Passport isn’t controversial. You use Telegram’s iOS or Android app to take pictures of your driver’s license, passport, or identity card; send the pictures to Telegram; and then manually authorize each cloud-based transmission of the ID data to a recipient. The company illustrates Passport’s futuristic functionality using examples from the sci-fi film The Fifth Element, a cute touch.
For now, recipients receive the images you submit, but Telegram says it will soon add trusted third-party verification, enabling services to rely on your verified ID without receiving your personal data. Conceptually, the current offering merely eliminates your need to take and email ID photos each time they’re requested, but in addition to convenience, it’s claimed to be secure. Telegram says that it uses end-to-end encryption for your IDs and personal data and claims that it therefore has “no access” to the content of the data you’re storing on its servers.
While Passport’s functionality is useful, the key question for users will be whether to trust Telegram — or any third-party cloud provider — with such critical identification data. Identity fraud is already rampant, and placing your IDs online within a database known to contain plenty of IDs could increase your chances of being victimized.
On the other hand, Telegram has already faced off with the Russian government, Iranian hackers, and even Apple over its encryption, so if you already trust it with your messages, adding your IDs might not be a huge leap of faith. The company also says that it will be moving all Passport data to a “decentralized cloud” in the future, for whatever that’s worth.
ePayments.com is the first electronic payments system to support registration and verification using Telegram Passport, but Telegram expects that it will be used regularly for ICOs and other financial services. Developers interested in implementing the service can use the new Telegram Passport Manual to access the feature.