GDS unveils 'Gov.UK Verify' public services identity assurance scheme

The Government Digital Service (GDS) debuts a system to prove users’ identities when using public services online, branded as 'Gov.UK Verify'

The government’s system for proving users' identities when using public services online will be launched under the brand name “Gov.UK Verify”.

The Verify brand will be unveiled tomorrow (Wednesday 17 September 2014) as the public-facing name for the Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP), which the Government Digital Service (GDS) has been working on for the past three years. GDS's Verify system will make it possible for citizens to prove who they are online to safely and securely access digital public services.

Government digital chiefs hope Gov.UK Verify will become a well-recognised and trusted brand as public services increasingly move to the digital-by-default model. While the unveiling does not coincide with the availability of the service just yet, it is an important milestone showing the full service will be launched soon.

In an exclusive interview, Government Digital Service (GDS) executive director Mike Bracken told Computer Weekly that three departments – including HM Revenue & Customs and the DVLA – are close to launching services using Gov.UK Verify, with “a long list of departments waiting to come on board”.

Bracken said the choice of the Gov.UK Verify name came after extensive user testing. “Verify – that’s what’s testing well, and we’ve tried all sorts. The platform is robust, suppliers are under contract. It will be at Gov.UK/Verify, and in October / November 2014 we’ll start to see key departments run that,” he said.

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The service will use a number of third parties to verify users’ identities and allow citizens to securely use government systems. Those companies have been put through rigorous security checks to allow them to offer the service.

GDS user testing showed users are familiar with the concept of verification online by a third party. Gov.UK Verify will work in a similar manner to using Facebook or Twitter usernames and passwords to log in to other websites.

Gov.UK Verify will be available from October 2014 as a public beta, after 18 months of user testing and seven months in private beta. A thousand users started testing the system in February 2014 on HM Revenue & Customs’ revamped PAYE service.

Overcoming security concerns

Gov.UK Verify is designed to overcome concerns about government setting up a central database of citizens’ identities to enable access to online public services – similar criticism led to the demise of the hugely unpopular identity card scheme set up under the Labour government.

Instead, users will register their details with one of several independent identity assurance providers – certified companies which will establish and verify a user’s identity outside government systems. When the user then logs in to a digital public service, the Verify system will electronically “ask” the external third-party provider to confirm the person is who they claim to be.

The service uses open standards approved by the Open Identity Exchange to ensure interoperability between government and third-party providers. Companies signed up as identity assurance providers include the Post Office, Digidentity, Experian, Mydex and Verizon. The government hopes that as many as 600,000 people could register to use Verify by the end of 2014. 

Universal Credit – the government’s flagship welfare reform programme – was initially expected to be one of the first users of identity assurance, but security concerns during its early trials meant the Department for Work and Pensions decided to implement its own security system – although identity assurance is expected to eventually play a part in the authentication process for Universal Credit users in the future.

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