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Land Registry unveils digital identity standard

12/03/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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HM Land Registry has launched its first standard for digital identities, saying it will make it possible to use smartphones in the conveyancing process.

Passport and smartphone with Land Registry on screen

It said the standard provides a step-by-list of requirements for conveyancers’ use of digital services to verify their clients’ identities online, and that while it is optional it offers a ‘safe harbour’ for those who meet the requirements, so they would not be subject to recourse from the agency if a false identity is used.

It also claimed improvements in security by requiring the use of smartphones to extract encrypted information contained in the chips of documents such as passports.

The requirements to meet the standard include:

  • obtaining evidence through interrogating cryptographic security features in a photo or document;
  • checking the evidence, with checks on digital signatures and signing keys and extraction of biometric information;
  • matching the evidence to the identity with assets such as photos and biometric algorithms;
  • and obtaining evidence to ensure the transferor, borrower or lessor is the same person as the owner.

The latter can involve physical documents such as utility or council tax bills and bank statements.

Mike Harlow, deputy chief executive and deputy chief land registrar, said: “Proving your identity when buying or selling your property can be a pain. But of course, it is essential to the security of such high value transactions. This new standard for digital biometric identity checking marks an exciting milestone towards a truly digital conveyancing process.

“In a challenging year, we set up a cross-industry forum to support our conveyancing colleagues. First, we brought in electronic signatures to remove any need for paper in conveyancing. Now through this same collaboration we are able to bring a new digital identity standard to reduce the risk of fraud and make transactions a more digital, easier and faster experience.

“The release of this standard marks another key step toward the future of conveyancing. It provides a clear blueprint for technology providers to develop a range of secure and convenient options to support conveyancers better.”

Market needs time

Along with Abbie Purslow, the land registrar, he added that they do not expect an immediate take-up of digital identity verification tools as it needs time for the market to develop solutions.

“We hope the standard, which incorporates digital solutions in place of manual processes, will act as a catalyst for technology providers and conveyancers to collaborate on developing and adopting convenient, modestly priced and more secure methods of digital identity verification,” they said.

The standard had been developed partly through a series of events with conveyancers and identity service providers last year.

Land Registry said it will continue to develop and tailor the standard by widening the scope to incorporate different legal entities and to explore the availability of other digital methods of obtaining evidence to link a person to a particular property.

It added that it will align its efforts with the work of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on a trust framework for digital identity.

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

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