Government launches initiative to tackle digital identity issues

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

The UK Government has launched a consultation exercise and pilot scheme to improve the way people and organisations can digitally verify identities.

A new call for evidence will explore the role of government and the private sector in the development of digital identities - the way people prove they are who they say they are using digital technology - and seek views on how to achieve higher levels of trust between the public and organisations checking their identities.

The proposals also include the potential for individuals to reuse previously verified identities in different sectors and services. 

For example, allowing them to reuse the identity created to access a government service, such as filing your self assessment tax return, when applying for a loan, rather than having to prove their identity in a different way.

Digital world: People increasingly need to prove identity online

With people increasingly required to prove their identity to access services, whether it is to buy age-restricted items on and offline or make it easier to register at a new GP surgery, these plans aim to help make doing so easier and more secure.

By cutting down on the need for physical documents, which could be misplaced or stolen, they also aim to reduce fraud. 

Reports suggest that unlocking the value of digital identity could add three per cent to UK GDP by 2030 - positioning the country as a world-leading place to develop cutting-edge innovation.

Identity fraud issue

Recent figures show identity fraud is a growing problem across the UK and last year the fraud prevention service Cifas reported 189,000 incidents of identity theft.

“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”, said Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright.

“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.

Minister for Implementation Oliver Dowden said: “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.

“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.

Pilot scheme

A small pilot scheme will be launched to help 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. 

It will begin with companies who currently provide digital identity services to Government.

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. 

Individual control

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.

“In our ever increasingly digitised world, the ability to prove identity online will be crucial for consumers and businesses alike”, said techUK CEO Julian David.

“We trust today’s announcement signals the Government’s commitment to creating a world-leading approach to digital identity in the UK, which is safe, secure and engenders trust. techUK is excited to work with the Digital Identity Unit to ensure the Government can make best use of the industry’s expertise and innovation.

“We are encouraged that the proposals will explore the potential for individuals to reuse previously verified identities and look forward to collaborating on the pilot scheme.

“techUK and our members are confident that this could reduce fraud and increase security helping drive confidence and prosperity for all.

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