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Government increases efforts to drive Verify uptake

Renewed push to create a ubiquitous digital identity market will include a consultation with the private sector and the creation of a dedicated unit

The government is stepping up efforts to create a market for digital identity by launching a new dedicated unit and a strategy to ramp up adoption of its preferred identity standard within private companies as well as public sector bodies.

Speaking at Identity Week in London on 11 June, Cabinet Office implementation minister Oliver Dowden outlined the steps the government will take to ensure an “interoperable future” for digital identity.

This will include a consultation in the coming weeks on how to ensure the “rules of the road” around interoperability for Gov.uk Verify, the government’s flagship digital identity platform. According to Dowden, this will involve private sector organisations , particularly those that have frequent user identity interactions.

“Working with the public sector will increase the number of organisations that can be recognised as creating trusted, secure digital identities, and will bring even more innovation and forward-thinking solutions,” he said.

“Ongoing engagement with the private sector has clearly shown that there is an opportunity for investments at scale in digital identity.”

The government will also launch a digital identity unit as a partnership between the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which will coordinate work between the government and companies to ensure Verify-based offerings are delivered at pace following the consultation.

“We want it to be safe and easy for people to create and reuse their digital identities, so they can access services across the public and private sectors,” said Dowden. “You could, in the future, use your digital identity to access your state pension and your savings account, for example.

“We know that this is only possible by finding shared interest, understanding the regulatory requirements, and collaboratively working with many different parties.” 

Dowden noted that the Government Digital Service (GDS) is beginning engagement on the commercial framework for consuming digital identities from the private sector for the period from April 2020, when the government will cease public funding of Verify.

The minister also announced that GDS is to sign a memorandum of understanding with Singapore on digital identity collaboration, which will see joint teams working on interoperability between Verify, the UK’s future model and Singapore’s national digital identity initiative.

Responding to criticisms around the UK government’s confidence in the private sector digital identity market, Dowden said the new plans meant that rather than being complacent, the government is putting its “collective weight” behind supporting the creation of a successful digital identity market in the UK.

Gov.uk Verify constitutes the basis of our success,” he said. “I know that Verify has commanded quite a few column inches in recent months and not all of them have been wholly positive, but there are important lessons learned and corrections have been made.

“But the assets the government has developed around digital identity have blazed a trail for a safe and secure digital identity system, with privacy at its heart, and this work provides a good foundation on which to build for the future.”

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Straight after Dowden’s presentation, digital identity expert Dave Birch said banks could play a significant role in increasing adoption of digital identity and the upcoming consultation with the private sector on Verify seemed to indicate that the government is “smart enough to know which way the wind is blowing”.

According to Birch, the idea of digital identity provided by banks as trusted suppliers has been discussed for some time, but has never quite materialised . However, things could be about to change as the government wants to ramp up adoption of the standard in the private sector and banks increasingly see digital identity as a commercial opportunity.

“One absolutely viable strategy would be to hand over [the digital identity market] to Facebook, Apple and Google,” said Birch. “But if the UK wants to do something about it, it has to start somewhere and maybe financial services will be the way to do it.

"Banks already invest a lot in know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering type of activities. Identity should be controlled by a regulated institution, so why not [consider banks].

“We need a vision to do something and I think financial services is the place to start, rather than government .”

MPs sitting on the Public Accounts Committee found recently that Verify was “failing its users”, has not delivered value for money, and its leaders have not accepted “proper accountability” for the troubled programme .

The committee’s investigation followed a National Audit Office report that revealed GDS had been forced to cut the forecast benefits of Verify by 75%, and an Infrastructure and Projects Authority review last year recommended that the programme be terminated.

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