Digital identity in the UK: new legal framework for a more secure approach

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A package of policies, a new project of Single Sign-On (SSO) and a small government “department” are some of the measures being developed by the UK government to re-launch the use and security of digital identity in public services

The UK has announced that a new legislation will be implemented to turn the digital identity into a system as secure and reliable as traditional passports or driving licences. This decision is supported by a public consultation, which concluded in September 13, 2021, carried out to test the permeability of the citizens about this matter. It is part of the National Data Strategy and also it is a new attempt by British government to legislate in this area after the failure of project Verify, which began in 2011.

Verify was launched as a citizen identification universal platform previous to any public service. During its nine years of operation, the system could not reach to a significant number of users due to the difficult process of registration. From the beginning of 2020, the project was considered as ended because it had achieved only a quarter of the expected registrations. However, its activity was prolonged due to the pandemic period.

To support this new effort, the Government has published, in parallel with the conclusions of the consultation, an estimate of the expenditure that would mean for the companies to adopt the ID model, as well as the net benefit in the short, medium and long term. The related initiatives would supposedly contribute to increase the innovative power of the country, to attract investors and, in short, to make use of the power of the data management to improve people’s lives. The British government is engaged with the agents of the different industries and the civil society to guarantee the compliance of the digital identity bases: privacy, transparency, inclusion, interoperability, proportionality and good governance. For this reason, a specific department dependent on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been established to carry out this project until the appropriate legal structure becomes effective: the Office for Digital Identities and Attributes, (ODIA). It is a provisional organization, as confirmed by the Minister Julia Lopez in a public hearing, and it will allow to work on the ambitious law that will be launched “when parliamentary time allows”.

 

A unique, sovereign and nationwide official digital identity

On this matter, there are many interrelated political initiatives launched by the UK. Among them, the well-known as “One Login for Government“, with more precise deadlines. The programme will make possible the creation of a sole account to allow the citizen to access to many government services. It will replace around 190 different ways to access these services. On April 2022, it will be available to the employers and lessors to carry out remote identity verifications and to validate the eligibility of a person for renting or working.

The new virtual ways of identification will reduce the time, the effort and the expense produced by the general use of physical documents to make any purchase or procedure where we need to prove who we are. In many cases, the citizen is compelled to use a mix of online and offline documents, issued by public or private authorities, in order to verify his/her identity. If that were not enough, they have to repeat the same procedures for each transaction. The journey towards digital systems plans to simplify all this process. It is suitable to specify that digital identity does not refer only to “name and surname” but also to other aspects of our life, such as online activities or our medical record, which becomes valuable personal data in virtual environments.

The different digital identity solutions, which go beyond the simply “digitizing” a document, would multiply exponentially the user’s possibilities to protect his/her privacy. For example, they would only show the data strictly needed of a client who purchases a property with age limits, unlike an ID or a passport where our address or our place of birth are found. They are dynamic solutions, with options that can be allowed or revoked by the owner, to access through different ways (apps, websites, etc.), online or in-person. Each company choose what technology works better for it to create and to verify the digital identity.

The organizations attached to the ODIA will have a certified trust seal. This seal will guarantee that they can provide the best services of digital identity and that they know the quality standards needed for managing the citizens’ data, respecting security and privacy.

Among the interests of the Government for implementing this new legislation are to provide the trusted organizations with the required power to verify an identity through information held by the public institutions. Also, to confirm the legal validity of the different ways of digital identification at the same level as traditional physical systems. Digital identity reduces drastically the quantity of personal data shared offline and online, which is a great value tool in the fight against fraud because it obstructs the obtaining and the pernicious use of stolen identity data.

At this point, it is necessary to point out that, as declared the Ministry Julia Lopez, digital identities are not obligatory and that citizens preserve the right to use their paper documents. In fact, the participants of the enquiry showed many mistrusts, with many opinions directly against the precepts of digital identity. It is the turn of the authorities to gain the respect and the trust of the potential users. In the end, the new regulations aim to improve people’s lives, making more secure and easier their daily operations thanks to the “cloud”, but always respecting their individual freedom.

A strong digital identity ecosystem, supported by a solid legislation, will prepare the UK for an increasingly digitized society and will open new opportunities for economic development.

 

SOURCES

1. UK Announces Initial Steps For National Digital Identities. Emma Woollacott | Forbes. Mar 14, 2022

2. UK establishes Office for Digital Identities and Attributes, new legislation and trustmark. Frank Hersey | Biometric Update. Mar 11, 2022

3. GOV.UK Verify guidance web page. Last update: Jun 25, 2021

4. Outcome from the UK government’s consultation on digital identity and attributes. Last update: Mar 10, 2022

5. Copy of de minimis assessment of the expenditure and benefits in the short, medium and long term for companies when adopting the new ID model. Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport | UK GOV. Sep 15, 2021

6. One Login for Government: December 2021 update. Natalie Jones | GOV.UK. Dec 1, 2021