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Scotland to begin building identity platform prototype this autumn

Scottish government plans flexible approach to online identity providers as it aims to launch alpha phase of is online identity assurance programme in August 2018

The Scottish government’s digital directorate plans to launch a six-to-nine-months alpha phase of its online identity assurance programme.

The aim of the alpha phase, which will run from August 2018, is to create a prototype of an identity assurance platform, which can then be tested with end users.

According to Scotland’s online identity assurance programme board papers, the country aims to take a flexible approach “to support different Identity Providers, as the landscape evolves”. 

During the recently completed discovery phase of the programme, the government looked at the existing digital identity services in the market, including Gov.uk Verify, the Verify identity providers (IDPs), fintech start-ups and the myaccount service, which is providing a digital identity service for Scottish local authorities. 

The discovery work found that from a “technical perspective”, Verify, which was created by the Government Digital Service (GDS), is “well placed to provide assured digital identity services”, but added that “there are potential issues with its current reach”.  

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, it has become clear that Verify is not the only player in the game, and GDS has begun to recognise that, wanting to “take their hands off the controls” and instead focus on standards and interoperability across the ecosystem. 

Scotland also recognises that there are “other players in the market that could provide plausible alternatives”.

Identity pools

The programme board also looked at the reach of existing identity services in Scotland, as programmes with existing Scottish users could provide “quick wins” in terms of getting “initial volumes”.

“For individuals that already have assured digital identities, allowing them to use those identities to access Scottish services may provide a simple and straightforward experience, compared to requiring those individuals to establish a different Digital Identity for Scotland,” the paper said. 

While the current number of Scottish Verify users is low, it is currently growing. However, the board noted that the speed of that growth will depend on how Verify itself grows, “including how well it is able to reach people who are not served by the conventional financial sources”.

“The relevance of individual Gov.uk Verify IDPs to Scotland varies as would their ability to bring scale outside of Gov.uk Verify. This includes individual providers which stand out as having a large number of touch points with individuals which may provide a means to establish digital identities,” the paper said.

It added that the myaccount service already has a large potential number of users, but because it wasn’t originally created for this purpose, it has low levels of assurance.

“Today there is no single pool of digital identities that the Scottish Government can leverage to address a significant proportion of the Scottish population,” the paper said, adding that the government should measure the reliability of alternative data sources, like local authority data, schools data and national entitlement cards, and integrate them into the approach in order to “provide routes for as many people as possible to obtain assured digital identities”.

“Advice is that Scottish government should take an approach that provides flexibility to support different identity providers, as the landscape evolves. Which identity providers and data sources it makes sense to start with will depend on the services that are to be supported first,” it said.

Read more about digital identity

Planning work to prepare for moving into the alpha phase of the programme in August 2018, will begin this month.

The alpha phase will help the government decide if the programme should “proceed ‘as is’, stop, or it it requires re-design or re-structuring”, the paper said, adding that a potential beta phase would not begin until April 2019.

Scotland is taking an “open approach” to the programme and aims to publish any documents on the project publicly. 

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