Digital ID cards are coming

October 2020

PQ editor Graham Hambly examines a government initiative for online identity cards, and weighs up the pros and cons.

Online ‘ID cards’ for all UK citizens are coming, as the government’s Digital Identity Strategy Board develops new principles to boost the secure use of your digital identity.

The proposals come after it was revealed that 2.6 million people made a claim for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme online (since May 2020), but 1.4 million had no prior digital identity credentials and so needed to pass through HMRC’s identity verification service.

Increasingly, people are required to prove their identity to access services, whether it is to buy age-restricted items on and offline or make it easier to register at a new GP surgery. Cabinet Office Minister Julia Lopez said: “We want to ensure there is transparency for people when they create and use digital identities quickly, safely and securely and we are committed to enabling this.”

Plans are now being put in place to update existing laws. A consultation on the legislation will look at specific rights for individuals, an ability to seek redress if something goes wrong, and set out where the responsibility for oversight should lie. It will also consult on the appropriate privacy and technical standards for administering and processing secure digital identities.

Hannah Gurga, Managing Director of Digital Technology & Cyber at UK Finance, said: “Removing the barriers to creating secure digital identities, combined with the necessary safeguards, will make it easier for people to use online services while at the same time helping to prevent criminal activity such as money laundering and terrorism. Developing a legal framework for digital identity is therefore an important next step and we look forward to working with the Government as it develops its proposals.”

The new government Digital Identity Strategy Board has developed six principles to strengthen digital identity delivery and policy in the UK. They are:

  1. Privacy: When personal data is accessed the individual will have confidence that there are measures in place to ensure their confidentiality and privacy; for instance, a supermarket checking a shopper’s age, a lawyer overseeing the sale of a house or someone applying to take out a loan.
  2. Transparency: When an individual’s identity data is accessed when using digital identity products they must be able to understand by who, why and when; for example, being able to see how your bank uses your data through digital identity solutions.
  3. Inclusivity: People who want or need a digital identity should be able to obtain one; for example, not having documentation such as a passport or driving licence should not be a barrier to having a digital identity.
  4. Interoperability: Setting technical and operating standards for use across the UK’s economy to enable international and domestic interoperability.
  5. Proportionality: User needs and other considerations such as privacy and security will be balanced so digital identity can be used with confidence across the economy.
  6. Good governance: Digital identity standards will be linked to government policy and law. Any future regulation will be clear, coherent and align with the government’s wider strategic approach to digital regulation. For example, firms verifying your identity will need to comply with laws around how they access and store data.

The UK government is also exploring how secure checks could be made against government data.

In September, the Document Checking Service Pilot scheme was launched by the government to give people easier and safer access to digital services which require identity checks, such as online mortgage applications, financial services and recruitment onboarding. The new service will also help organisations tackle fraud and test if there is a market for this type of digital identity checking service.

The pilot, which will run for approximately a year, will deliver significant time savings for people who previously went through in-person processes to verify their identities. It will also provide financial savings for organisations who can move their identity proofing processes online.