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DCMS opens talks with private sector on future of digital identity market

Department has met with suppliers to discuss plans for a trust framework to show ‘what good looks like’ as it ploughs ahead with digital identity plans

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is creating a trust framework with standards for digital identity that will guide the market, according to its deputy director for digital identity, Hannah Rutter.

Computer Weekly understands that DCMS held a meeting with suppliers yesterday (11 November) to discuss the future of the UK’s digital identity market and its plans for the trust framework.

Speaking at the Think Digital Identity For Government event today (12 November), Rutter said digital identity has the potential to save the UK economy £750m a year, and that it is “absolutely worthwhile for government to take action”.

In September 2020, the government announced the next steps in its plans for digital identity and released its long-awaited response to the 2019 call for evidence seeking views on future policy.

Rutter said she was “excited” that the government is finally able to publish “those next steps” and that it has committed “to do the enabling work that government can do” to drive digital identity forward. This includes setting a framework “for the trust and standards that are needed in the economy”, she said.

“It was clear from both those who want to trust digital identities and those who want to be creating them with their citizens, that a government-backed solution that enables you to know what good looks like was really important to build this trust,” said Rutter.

She added that DCMS sees it as essential to work with the private and public sector, civil society and academia to develop this.

“We are not going to get it right the first time we produce the draft – no one ever does,” she said. “But we’re going to be open to challenge and we really do want to get it right. There is a genuine commitment from my team and from those right across government.”

Rutter added that the department is also keen not to duplicate work that has already been done. “We are committing to, wherever possible, point to existing work, so that we’re not creating new layers and new hoops to jump through where that’s not necessary,” she said.

In August 2020, the government launched a pilot of its Document Checking Service, which aims to open up passport data to allow private sector organisations to check identities digitally.                                                                    

The pilot scheme, which was originally touted in July 2019, when DCMS, working with the Cabinet Office, launched a call for evidence around interest and views on the scheme, will run for about a year.

Read more about government and digital identity

  • The government has announced the next steps in its plans for digital identity across the UK and has finally released its long-awaited response to the 2019 call for evidence seeking views on future policy.
  • As the Government Digital Service prepares for the winding down of its Gov.uk Verify service, its future plans for digital identity are becoming a little clearer.
  • The lack of reliable digital ID services in the UK is limiting the country’s digital infrastructure potential, according to a report on digital identity, which also recommends the government to clarify the future of Gov.uk Verify.

The service was originally developed as part of Gov.uk Verify, the government’s troubled digital identity scheme. Users creating a Verify account to access online public services can submit their passport details to help prove that they are who they say they are, but this function has only been available for government services.

Rutter said people tend to trust passport and driver’s licence documents, and there needs to be a way to move the “trust we have in those documents online”.

DCMS has also been working with Royal Holloway University on people who risk being digitally excluded, and how they feel about different types of digital identity scheme. Rutter said the results show that people want a “sense of autonomy and control over their identity, so their biggest ask was about transparency”.

She added: “They want to know who can view their information, how they’re viewing it. And they want it to be clear what they’ve signed up for before they start, and they want to know where to go for help if they need it.

“I think that’s a really important message, not just for government, but the private sector who are going to be building some of these really exciting solutions. And, frankly, if we don’t get it right, if we don’t make sure that we’re including people, that we are working closely with business, with the wider public sector, individuals and their needs, then however exciting the tech is, however much we know the potential is there, digital identity simply won’t take off.”

In June 2020, Computer Weekly reported that the Government Digital Service, which was responsible for the Gov.uk Verify project, for which funding is being stopped, is now developing an Identity and Attributes Exchange (IAX).

IAX is intended to be the way that ID companies gain access to the public sector market through a trust mark for digital identity products.

Organisations will become members of IAX and will be certified by an independent auditor. Only IAX members will be allowed to sell digital identity services to the UK government.

Certification depends on adherence to a set of government-approved standards, which appear to be based on the same GPG44 and GPG45 standards upon which Verify was built.

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