What if all our cosy assumptions about ID are totally wrong?

A provocative session at Think Digital Identity For Government last week raises issues about ethics and what’s really real in our sector

Posted 11 June 2019 by

We often tell ourselves that Digital Identity will become mainstream because of positive reasons, like getting access to public services, or that a State-issued ID is safer and less resistant to cracking than a commercial one.

Photo © 2019, JosephSpear/Mvine

But what if we had both of these the wrong way round?

That was just one of the intriguing takeaways from a very thought-provoking panel at last Friday’s very successful Think Digital Identity For Government 2019, on ‘Futures’.

On it, Yoti‘s Director of Regulatory & Policy Julie Dawson predicted it was actually going to be ‘vice’ that would drive take-up of ID in the UK – specifically, the need from mid next month to prove you are over 18 years of age to get access to adult online services: “This will be a big driver of uptake in the [UK Digital Identity] market,” she noted.

Plus, suggested the Technical Director of Outreach at the Internet Society, Robin Wilton, we should all be thinking about how it’s very easy to create a fake ID online – but that, “You simply can’t forge the same pattern of behaviour that Google collects about us every time we do a search or buy something online.”

These actions create what Wilton sees as a “cloud of attributes” that collect around us like a gravity well that are “almost impossible to escape” – and which may well therefore be a much better place to start creating usable online Identities than some of our public-sector driven ones.

Not to be outdone, fellow Futures panellist Robin Pharoah of Future Agenda also had a useful idea for delegates to ponder over: that what we probably need in our future digital wallets will be a mix of both state-issued documentation and this kind of “behavioural” personal evidence.

The panel then went on to speculate on how ethics really needs to become part of the ID debate, with Wilton worrying that smart city data, though intended at the outset to only be used for social good, will inevitably end up being monetised by the private sector participants brought into deliver, say, smart parking, while Pharoah warned that Uber has already started to filter out rides with negative driver-reviews – an echo of the social credit rating system we all worry about so much in China.

“Data isn’t the new ‘oil’ of the Digital Economy,” added Pharoah.

“It’s more the persistent past that we can never forget – and I think [permanent] deletion should become a real option for us all as a result.”