DCMS launches digital identity consultation

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published a call for evidence on the future of digital identities, which includes questions on needs and problems, criteria for trust, and the roles of government and the private sector.

It comes with a prediction that unlocking the value of digital identity could add three per cent 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 public sector online identity authentication.

Digital secretary Jeremy Wright said: “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.”

The consultation document acknowledged that different services require different levels of identity proofing and that the benefits are not restricted to online transactions. It asked 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 Verify service is only mentioned 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 gave it a red rating in its recent annual report on major government projects.

Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister who oversees GDS, which developed Verify, commented: “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.”

DCMS stated 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.

No organisation would be given access to government-held data under these proposals, rather identity providers would 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.

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.

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