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Digital identity must not remain the missing link in the UK’s digital strategy

The UK's digital economy is desperately in need of a viable digital identity strategy - to recover from the pandemic, the government cannot wait any longer to resolve this much-delayed issue

The Covid-19 crisis has brought home many lessons – a major one is that to ensure its economic future, the UK must establish a truly digital economy.

A crucial element in this economy is being able to safely and securely prove who you are online. Many experts in the technology sector see digital identity as a key missing link in the UK’s approach to digital policy making. The pandemic has made this need even more apparent. With the launch of our report on digital identity, TechUK has presented its recommendations to government on how to forge this link.

The current crisis has had a devastating impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, on businesses and on the economy; and we are now entering a recession much worse than any in recent memory.

To recover from this, the UK must reinvent itself. UK citizens and businesses are crying out for action to put us on a sound economic footing for the long term - this means bold policies and forward-thinking changes.

Decisive steps

Now is the time to take decisive steps to build a fully-fledged digital economy, with all the moving parts it needs to work well. We must become a connected, data-led digital economy, where data is used and re-used in secure, innovative ways across our economy and society. Fundamental to this, will be consumer trust. Digital identity can deliver this through security of data, user control and privacy by design, paving the way for new ways of living and working online.

Powerful bodies share this view: the Bank of England’s Future of finance report cited digital identities as essential for households and firms to benefit from the digital economy. A recent McKinsey report estimated that digital identities could boost UK GDP by up to 3%. Wiping out errors in tax calculations could save £28bn, while digital identities could slash identity-related fraud by 40%, generating a further £4.5bn in savings by 2030.

If we get this right now, not only can we rebuild our economy but, most importantly, we can help people facing severe financial problems as a result of Covid-19 to get back on their feet. Those who have lost their jobs would be able to apply for new positions online much more easily, going through seamless and swift right-to-work and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, if necessary, and getting back to work quickly.

Those struggling with their finances would find it much easier to access loans and credit, even without traditional proofs of identity such as passports or driving licences. It would be simpler for people to register for government benefits and for small businesses to prove their eligibility for grants.

Behind other countries

Our ability to track and trace coronavirus infections depends on identity being ascertainable easily and swiftly, while remaining private to the individual. Digital identities could do all this, offering a series of helping hands to our people and our economy.

And in this day and age is it not anathema that young people buying age-restricted goods must be visually checked by retail staff and that those staff may be subject to abuse or violence if they ask, as mandated by law, for documentary proof of identity? Such out-of-date laws must be removed from the statute book.

There is simply no time to waste. Other countries are way ahead of the UK in recognising and acting upon the benefits of digital identities. There is the well-known e-Estonia; Belgium has Itsme; Sweden and the Nordics have BankID; Canada has a Digital Identity Council (DIACC) and SecureKey; India has Aadhaar - to name but some. Yet the uncomfortable fact is that the UK is trailing way behind.

A new digital identity strategy is urgently needed in the UK. Government must step up to the convenor’s plate; bring public and private sectors together to work collaboratively to set standards; engender interoperability and establish a market. It is vital that a lead is taken at a time when leadership is so badly required. Only thus will we build the foundations for the truly digital economy we will so badly need in the days, months and years to come.

If your company operates in the digital identity sector and you want to join us in resolving the UK’s digital identity challenge please make sure you get in contact with us at TechUK. We need a diverse set of voices around the table to make sure we get this done quickly, but more importantly, done right.

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