Digital ID Aims to Simplify Brits’ Use of Public Services

UK ID Legislation Promises Improved Data Sharing

The United Kingdom is preparing legislation to help people prove their identity online.

In a draft legislation to support identity verification published this month, the government outlined its goal to improve online identity verification and enable better data sharing between public agencies — a move that it said will make it easier for people to use digital public services.

“The data sharing would provide … specified public authorities with the ability to share data for the purposes of identity verification for the benefit of individuals and households,” the report stated.

Public entities that will be able to participate in this data-sharing scheme will include national bodies like the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as well as local and regional councils.

All data shared under the proposed objective will be included in the register of information-sharing agreements established under the Digital Economy Act, which provides much of the current regulatory framework for data sharing between government agencies.

The planned legislation is also intended to unlock the full benefits of a new government identity verification system, known as One Login.

Currently, health and adult social care bodies are not included in the scope of the Digital Economy Act’s data-sharing provisions, an exemption that the recent proposal indicated will be carried forward in any new legislation.

Also under the new proposal, public authorities will be able to process the minimum number of data items necessary for verifying an individual’s identity. These may include their full name, date of birth, home address, passport or driver’s license number, and photographic identification.

Digital IDs in the UK and EU

Whereas in some countries the challenge of creating digital IDs essentially boils down to transposing physical ID documents into the digital sphere, the U.K. doesn’t have a nationwide ID card scheme or any equivalent to Social Security numbers.

Instead, a patchwork of different identification regimes is in operation, spanning tax, passports, healthcare and education, among others.

And while the proposed legislation is about enabling better inter-agency communication, it sits in parallel with the government’s efforts to create a single digital identity people can use to verify themselves online in different situations.

Separately from the One Login, the government is also legislating to enable the use of trusted digital identities in the private sector under Part 2 of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

Where the anticipated new data-sharing regulations are intended to ease some of the friction this creates in relationships between individuals and the state, the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is geared toward interactions between individuals and private businesses.

As the government outlined in a policy paper explaining the anticipated digital ID framework which is currently being prototyped, any such scheme will be opt-in, with individuals and organizations allowed to specify the specific types of information included in digital identification services.

Unlike the EU’s proposed eID wallet which is being designed to create interoperability between digital ID systems among member states, the U.K.’s approach is to focus on allowing digital identification service providers to create their own solutions within a specific trust framework.

However, both projects are aimed at making it easier to prove identity without relying on physical documentation while empowering individuals to maintain better control over their data.

In Europe, for example, Findynet, a Finland-based identity network, is building on the legacy of the bank-led TUPAS eID system and will first focus on use cases in the financial services sector before eventually targeting broader applicability in the future.

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