Technology has changed our lives and not a day passes without a report or news headline on their combined impact. Recent developments have rightly put these at the heart of public policy debates.
"It is crucial that the issue of digital identity is resolved if we consider the potential benefits it could bring to a myriad of sectors and some of the key societal challenges it could address"
One central topic, however, seems too often left on the sidelines: identification in the digital era. Identifying oneself is a prerequisite to accessing a host of services including opening a bank account or voting. With more and more services becoming digitised, identification should clearly be next.
It is crucial that the issue of digital identity is resolved if we consider the potential benefits it could bring to a myriad of sectors and some of the key societal challenges it could address.
Digital ID: Unlocking the Potential of Digital Transformation
From boosting user trust in new digital services, to saving the time and cost of manual checks, to tackling fraud and identity theft, digital identity’s potential is colossal.
It can also help solve fundamental societal issues such as access to banking, social services, housing and many more. The World Bank reported that, as of 2018, the estimated global population lacking proof of legal identity reached nearly one billion and about 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked. Digital identity has the potential to be an essential factor in social integration. Organisations in the UK, including local authorities, are exploring this opportunity with pilot projects.
A key element of digital identity ecosystem the UK requires is the facility for an ID to be useable across the public and private spheres and to be built up progressively. Organisations, such as the NHS, airlines, local authorities and banks, do not all need the same level of verification and attributes. An ‘attribute’ could be anything which goes towards an identity, such as academic qualifications, history of rental or National Insurance payments etc. Users, especially those most vulnerable, should be able to acquire a basic digital ID, by means of a few verifiable attributes and then build it up over time as required by relevant organisations.
Digital ID is already happening. We are used to proving our identity digitally to access our bank accounts so that we can, for example, make payments. But there is a lot more to be achieved.
Looking Ahead: Collaboration Before Competition
There are many organisations working on their own digital identity schemes and solutions. The greatest risk is the emergence of stand-alone systems that are not interoperable, so creating a fragmented market. In this eventuality, users would need to create as many separate digital IDs as services they want to access, and the huge potential benefits would be lost.
For that reason, techUK recommended in its recent white paper that the Government adopt ‘a policy to facilitate the creation of a fully functioning digital identity ecosystem, which operates across public and private sectors. But government alone cannot make this happen; players from the private sector must collaborate to jointly create standards, enable interoperability, improve inclusion and build the architecture, etc.
The UK urgently needs cross-sector collaboration to enable the creation of digital identities that work for everyone and a market in which all players can compete. To that end, techUK, working with the Open Identity Exchange, has initiated focused working groups and is engaging with Government to take concrete steps to enable that much needed collaboration.
techUK welcomes the creation of the Government’s Digital Identity Unit, as announced by the Minister for Implementation, Oliver Dowden MP, on 11th June and looks forward to further collaboration at industry and government levels.