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DCMS launches consultation on digital identities

19/07/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has begun a consultation on digital identities and announced plans for a pilot project on identity checks.

It has published a call for evidence, open until 15 September, which involves a series of questions on needs and problems, criteria for trust, and the roles of government and the private sector.

This comes with a prediction that unlocking the value of digital identity could add 3% to UK GDP by 2030, but also raises further questions about the future of GOV.UK Verify, the service developed by the Government Digital Service (GDS) for online identity authentication for public sector services.

Jeremy Wright

Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright (pictured) said: “We are determined to cement Britain’s place as a world leading digital economy by creating a regulatory environment which works for consumers, citizens and businesses.

“These new proposals could make it easier for people to prove their identity without compromising their personal information and for businesses to conduct checks in a safe and secure way.

“This will help make sure more and more people benefit from the huge potential of technology and can use it to shop, bank and access government services.”

Different levels

Among the points raised in the consultation document is an acknowledgement that different services require different levels of identity proofing, and the benefits are not restricted to online transactions. For example, people could prove their age through a smartphone app for face-to-face transactions.

It says DCMS wants to gather evidence on how government and the private sector can support digital identity solutions, encourage innovation and ensure people will trust the way their identities are used. This includes how government should check the validity of documents or attributes while ensuring it is only done with the individual’s active consent and control.

The document makes only a passing reference to Verify as one of a number of government services in the field. Its take-up has been disappointing since it went live in 2016 and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has given it a red rating in its new annual report on major government projects.

DCMS declined to comment on how it relates to the consultation; but the announcement included a statement from Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister who oversees (GDS) which developed Verify.

“We are committed to delivering a thriving digital identity market that allows people to access more government and private sector services online safely and securely,” he said.

“Last October I announced that the GOV.UK Verify programme is mature enough to move to the next phase of its development, in which the private sector takes on responsibility for broadening the usage and application of digital identity in the UK. Allowing organisations greater flexibility to reuse identities is an important step towards this goal.”

It is also notable that the Cabinet Office recently set up a Digital Identity Unit to work on delivering the outcome of the consultation.

Pilot plan

DCMS added that a pilot scheme will begin with companies that currently provide digital identity services to government, with the Post Office, Barclays, Experian, Secure Identity and Digidentity cited as possible participants. It is set to conclude by April 2021.

It will be aimed at helping people speed up their applications for services,for example applying for a credit card, by allowing organisations to digitally check their identity using British passport data, where they have used this to register for government services.

Individuals applying to access selected services online could have their identity verified this way if they choose to. The scheme will then be opened up to a small cohort of additional private sector companies for use across a range of services.

No organisation would be given access to government-held data under these proposals, identity providers would simply get a yes or no as to whether the document was validly issued, and no personal data not already provided by the individual would be used or shared.

Any new solutions will be compliant with recently strengthened data protection laws and set out requirements for the secure transfer of data. There will be no central identity database and individuals will be in control of their personal data.

The pilot scheme will also test if there is a market for these new types of digital identity checking services.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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