Cryptographic and biometric techniques could help conveyancers confirm clients' identities whilst maintaining social distancing, according to a senior figure at HM Land Registry. 

HM Land Registry says the pandemic has highlighted the immediate need for an easy-to-use, modestly priced, remote and digitally secure way for conveyancers to securely identify buyers and sellers, and is working with the Law Society and other property bodies on potential solutions.

In a blog posted on Friday, Land Registry’s deputy chief executive Mike Harlow said current conveyancing processes ‘do not feel very 21st century’ and have been difficult to maintain during this crisis.

Along with the Law Society, Council for Licensed Conveyancers and Chartered Institute for Legal Executives, ‘we believe that cryptographic and biometric checking of identity, using microchip-enabled passports or identity cards, might present a new, robust and convenient answer to the need to maintain social distancing while verifying an applicant’s identity’, Harlow said.

‘Using cryptographic combined with biometric identity solutions presents a potential simple solution. When using these technologies the user places their smartphone next to their passport. The app then analyses the information from the passport chip to cryptographically check the validity of the passport. The user then records a video, which is then compared with the passport photo on the chip to achieve facial recognition. This can be done using a smartphone (Android and iPhones included), wherever they are, and the results are near immediate.’

Society president Simon Davis said some solicitors are already using digital methods to check buyers and sellers’ identities. However, in the current circumstances, and the need to maintain social distancing, digital ID checks deserve further investigation.

Davis said: ‘Cryptographic and biometric checking of identity could help reduce fraud, maintain social distancing and improve the delivery of conveyancing services during the coronavirus crisis and beyond. We will work with HM Land Registry to understand which products are most secure and reliable in producing the results that our solicitors need.’

Harlow urged potential suppliers of cryptographic and biometric technology to consider how they could meet conveyancers’ needs. Land Registry will host a virtual event to explore the issue further.