Government launches consultation on plans for UK digital identity market

DCMS wants stakeholders to offer their views on proposals for a new governance regime and expanding access to government-held datasets for identity verification

The government has launched a consultation on its latest plans for the use of digital identities in the UK.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) wants to gather the views of interested parties on proposals to “make digital identities as trusted and secure as official documents”.

The consultation follows on from the publication of a draft digital identity and attributes trust framework in February this year. A second iteration of the framework is expected to be released later this month.

Under the DCMS plan, a governing body will be established to oversee regulation and certification of digital identity providers, which may be awarded a “trust mark” to demonstrate their conformance with the framework.

Organisations awarded a trust mark will be allowed to conduct digital checks against government-held data. A pilot scheme was initiated last year for checks against passport data. As part of the framework, the aim is to make a much wider range of datasets available, and there is separate work underway on digitising birth certificates as a further alternative.

These checks are likely to take the form of a simple yes/no verification, and will not involve sharing of government data with third parties – for example, “Is this the correct name associated with this passport number?”

Legislation will also be required to give digital identities the same legal status as physical documents. But the DCMS proposals also include measures to allow people who do not have a sufficient digital footprint to use physical documents to create a digital identity – this lack of digital inclusion was one of the major problems that afflicted the £200m Gov.uk Verify digital identity system. Verify is being phased out, to be replaced by a new system, labelled One Login for Government.

“The plans laid out today will ensure people can trust the app in their pocket as much as their passport when proving their identity,” said digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman.

“Digital identities offer a huge opportunity to make checks easier, quicker and more secure, and help people who do not have traditional forms of ID to prove who they are. This technology is a vital building block for the economy of the future, and we’re ensuring that people who choose to use it can have confidence that their data will be handled safely.”

DCMS said in the consultation that its preference is for an existing regulatory body to take on responsibility for governance of the digital identity market, rather than creating an entirely new organisation.

Accreditation by the governing body will not be mandatory for digital identity providers, but firms will not be given access to government datasets unless they take part. Possible homes for the governance function include the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Competition and Markets Authority.

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, digital identity companies have come around to the DCMS plans after their initial concerns were overcome. Some firms had been worried that they would be forced to adopt the technical standards that underpinned Gov.uk Verify.

The new proposals allow for industry sectors to establish their own digital identity schemes to regulate providers in that market – such as in financial services– reporting in to the overall governing body.

“To support the trust framework, there will need to be a responsible and trusted governance system in place which can oversee digital identity and attribute use and make sure organisations comply with the rules contained within the trust framework,” said Warman, in a foreword to the consultation.

“We are using this consultation to solicit views on the exact scope and remit of this governing body. As the consultation makes clear, it will be vital to ensure that this body works closely with other regulators that have oversight of digital services, and supports our wider goals of establishing a coherent regulatory landscape that unlocks innovation and growth.”

The consultation and associated online survey will last for eight weeks, closing at 11:45 PM on Monday 13 September.

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