Government announces steps towards “the next generation of digital identity use”

September 1, 2020

The UK government has announced plans to enable the use of digital identity across the UK, with plans to update existing laws and to create a new set of principles to guide policy development. The new plans follow a call for evidence last year as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the related move to online working and accessing services. 

As background, the government says that 2.6 million people have made a claim for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme online since its launch on 13 May 2020, with 1.4 million having no prior digital identity credentials and needing to pass through HMRC’s identity verification service. It has become clear that people are increasingly 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.

The government will consult on developing legislation for consumer protection relating to digital identity, 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.

In addition, a new Digital Identity Strategy Board has also developed six principles to strengthen digital identity delivery and policy in the UK. The six principles are:

  • Privacy – when personal data is accessed people 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.
  • 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 a bank uses a person’s data through digital identity solutions.
  • 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 not having a digital identity.
  • Interoperability – setting technical and operating standards for use across the UK’s economy to enable international and domestic interoperability.
  • 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.
  • 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 a person’s identity will need to comply with laws around how they access and store data.

The government is also piloting a document checking service for a year, with the aim of providing people with easier and safer access to digital services which require identity checks, for example, online mortgage applications, financial services and recruitment onboarding. It also aims to help organisations tackle fraud and test if there is a market for this type of digital identity checking service.