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HM Land Registry drafts digital ID standards

The department’s draft identity-checking requirements aims to provide clarity for software developers creating solutions to be used for property lawyers

HM Land Registry has drafted a set of requirements aimed at encouraging digital identity checks and enable software developers to build easy-to-use and secure systems.  

In a blog post, Mike Harlow, general counsel, deputy chief executive and deputy land registrar at the department, said the aim is to do “what we can to support the sector to see the development of easy-to-use, modestly priced, remote and digitally secure options for conveyancers to use with their clients”.

“Ensuring you know who you are dealing with in an increasingly digital and online world is vitally important to the trust and confidence in the registration of land, and conveyancing process more generally,” he said.

Over the summer, the department held a series of events with identity service providers and conveyancers, and has now developed a draft set of requirements “aimed at encouraging digital identity checks”, which it is now seeking feedback on.

Harlow said that during the events, the department looked at what solutions were already available in the market and what barriers needed to be overcome.

“It was apparent that there is existing usable technology that has the potential not only to meet conveyancers’ needs, but to give consumers and property businesses greater security and convenience,” he said.

HM Land Registry found that a department standard would be a “strong catalyst for the development of identity checking services aimed at the conveyancing market”, and decided to draft a set of requirements to provide clarity to the market and steer investment and development.

The department used Cabinet Office guidance as the foundation for its digital identity requirements, wanting them to be easily interpreted by suppliers and their customers.

“Ease of interpretation is important as we do not plan to manage an accreditation process for identity providers or provide lists of suitable providers to the market. Instead, we hope the brevity of the requirements will allow simple self-certification by identity providers,” Harlow said.

In a document setting out the draft standard and requirements, the department said that there is scope for “an alternative higher standard of identity check – one that uses biometric and cryptographic technology, is defined and gives clarity and certainty to the conveyancer that they have discharged their duty on identity verification in connection with land registration applications”.

This enhanced level of checking is known as the Safe Harbour Standard, which covers a set or requirements, including obtaining evidence, such as passports or driver licence to ensure the person is who they say they are.

The evidence must then be checked to ensure it is not forgery by reading the chip using near-field communication by providing any required cryptographic keys before checking that the person presenting the information matches the photo in the evidence provided.

The final requirement is to obtain evidence to ensure the “transferor, borrower or lessor is the same person as the owner”, by checking two examples of evidence, such as utility bill, council tax or similar.

Computer Weekly reported earlier in November that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is creating a trust framework with standards for digital identity that will guide the market.

Harlow said its HM Land Registry’s intention is to align the standard “with work DCMS is doing to implement an overarching framework for digital identity to use across the economy”.

He added that meeting the HM Land Registry standard will be optional and that conveyancers will be able to continue to use all methods they currently use to identify their clients.

“However, those who can demonstrate that they have met the new standard will be protected, as HM Land Registry would not seek recourse against a conveyancer in the event their client was not who they claimed to be. That’s a demonstration of our confidence in the additional security offered by these techniques,” he said.

The draft standard is open for feedback until 11 December 2020.

Read more about digital identity and government

  • 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.
  • DCMS 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.
  • Digital Identity Scotland’s 10-week test of its digital identity prototype finds that users understand the concept of two-factor authentication and using the same credentials across services.

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