UK government proposes a new governing body to oversee digital identities

By on 22/07/2021
The government has set six objectives for creating a digital governance framework including ensuring services are accessible to all users. Credit: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

The UK government is consulting on the creation of a governing body to oversee the use of digital identity services in the country.

The proposals are contained within a broader consultation on online authentication, identity and eligibility technology, which suggests some of the ways it could be expanded in the UK.

The consultation document emphasises both the accessibility and security benefits of digital identity schemes. Such products would allow people to prove their identity or eligibility for a service without resorting to costly, slow, or risky use of paper documents, the document says.

It would also reduce the “record levels” of abuse of personal data and fraud in the UK, with 220,000 cases reported in 2019, according to the consultation.  

The UK spent years pursuing its ‘Verify’ digital ID scheme – under which accredited businesses could provide ID verification to citizens – but key government departments refused to adopt the system, and takeup rates across the country fell far short of expectations. It is now working on a pilot for a “one login” system for the public sector, with users only having to provide ID data once to access a range of services.

“For these tools to deliver the economic, security and privacy benefits for the UK, they need to be trusted by business, by regulators and most importantly by people,” digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman and Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary Julia Lopez write in the introduction to the consultation. “That is why it is so important we get this right.”

Governance

Under the proposals, the new governing body would be set up within an existing regulator. “Placing these functions within an existing regulator ensures the regulator has the experience, status and powers to give sufficient oversight and offers economies of scale by reducing costs associated with setting up a brand new stand-alone regulator,” it says.

The government has set six objectives for creating a digital governance framework, according to the consultation. These range from fostering innovation to ensuring inclusion and accessibility and protecting data privacy.

With such public sensitivity around protecting people’s personal data, the proposed governing body would ensure organisations adhere to a trust framework for “digital identities and attributes technology” covering issues such as inclusion, security, privacy, and fraud management. An early prototype version was published in February this year.

The digital identity consultation document proposes that the governing body would manage the trust framework and “provide oversight of accreditation and certification processes so qualifying organisations prove compliance with a trust mark.”

It also envisages a “tiered system” where organisations would be part of the governance framework after being certified against the trust framework or by joining as part of a sector-specific scheme. What delegated responsibilities such sector schemes will have is part of the consultation, but the document makes clear that the governing body would oversee them.

Legal changes

Elsewhere in the proposal, the government sets out plans to create a “new legal gateway” between public and private sector bodies that will “create a power for government departments and agencies to confirm personal data with organisations for eligibility, identity or validation checking purposes.”

And as a confidence-building measure for the public and businesses, the proposal outlines plans to introduce a “statutory presumption” confirming that digital IDs will be as valid as physical forms of identification or traditional documents such as passports.  

The government is also consulting on whether it needs to establish additional “redress routes” for consumers using its potential digital ID products such as an ombudsman or a dispute-resolution mechanism. 

The consultation runs until September 13.

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