The UK government is launching proposals to boost the legal status of digital identities, something it claims will ensure they are trusted as much as physical documents such as passports.
The blueprint suggests the technology could take a number of forms such as a phone app or a web-based service.
The government today argued digital identities could help reduce cases of online fraud because they are much harder for criminals to access and replicate than other types of online personal data such as dates of birth.
Some 220,000 cases of personal data abuse and impersonation were recorded in the UK during 2019, according to govnernment figures.
In its proposals, the government also said it thinks digital identities were an easy way to help individuals prove age or qualifications without requiring physical documents.
The intent is to create a governing body that would be charged with making sure organisations follow government rules on online authentication, identity and eligibility solutions.
The consultation has asked for feedback on three issues: the governance system to oversee digital identity and make sure organisations comply with the rules; how it might allow trusted organisations to make digital checks against authoritative government-held data; and the legal validity of digital identities.
Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said: “Digital identities offer a huge opportunity to make checks easier, quicker and more secure, and help people who do not have traditional forms of ID to prove who they are. This technology is a vital building block for the economy of the future, and we’re ensuring that people who choose to use it can have confidence their data will be handled safely.”
The consultation said digital identity would offer people who do not have access to an official document, such as a passport for example, the ability to prove their identity digitally through another government service, a trusted individual such as a doctor, or another trustworthy source.
Second verse, same as the first
The UK government has been here before, of course. Back in 2015, then Cabinet Office minister Mad Frankie Maude said the government was working with industry to look into the potential for ID assurance services to be used more extensively in the private sector.
The government was at the time developing its own Verify system to offer access to government services. Digidentity and Experian were the early certified providers, with Mydex, the Post Office and Verizon set to join later.
But by 2016, the Department for Work and Pensions began developing its own online identity tool to ensure a secure transaction with government services. It was slated as an alternative to Government Digital Service’s Verify, which had repeatedly missed its sign-up targets over its four-year programme.
The Verify service went live in 2016.
Earlier this year contracts with Digidentity and the Post Office were extended in deals worth £5m to keep the service up and running, even though it was experiencing significant issues at the time.
Verify was branded as a mess in 2019, with the National Audit Office saying it had “significantly” missed every target, and the Public Accounts Committee claiming it was “unsccessfully implemented, was badly designed, and had technical difficulties that lacked the necessary departmental and leadership buy-in”.