Editorial

Lisa Barrett: ‘We have to do a better job about talking about Digital Identity’

Acknowledging that there have been past mistakes, GDS’s first ever leader solely responsible for Digital Identity reiterated why we need an ID solution to delegates at last week’s ‘Think Digital Identity For Government’ conference

Posted 12 June 2019 by

Appointed just a few months ago – and with only a few months to go until a key UK Identity deadline – life must be pretty busy for the Government Digital Service leader whose sole responsibility is all things GOV.UK Verify.

That’s the Service’s new Director of Digital Identity, Lisa Barrett, who started her professional life as a teacher for ten years in tough US schools – so she must be used to a tough crowd!

She had one last Friday at June’s successful Think Digital Identity For Government 2019, or at least potentially one; buyers and sellers of Digital ID solutions across the public and the private sectors.

That may explain why Barrett delivered her keynote presentation on where we are with Verify at something of a break-neck speed – but she needn’t have worried: the community seems to have welcomed her appointment and early determined reachout to them, especially across central government.

Nonetheless, Barrett reminded everyone about her deadline – that as of the end of March 2020, Verify is to stop being supported by central government funding and, well… a thousand flowers will bloom. Right?

Beginning her speech with a reminder of the motivations behind Verify, such as the fact that 31% of the UK population has no credit card and 26% no passport or driver’s licence – thus without two of the most common forms of document verification we use – Barrett went on to acknowledge in a section of her presentation entitled ‘Observations and Lessons Learned’ that there were, of course, reasons why Verify is seen by many as something of a failure. Indeed, she explicitly acknowledged this in a response later to a question from Verify sceptic Computer Weekly editor Bryan Glick.

But Barrett says there are still valuable assets and deliverables out of the Verify work:

“We have to do a better job [at GDS] in talking about Verify. We’ve not done ourselves any favours there. But we are all working hard to create the conditions to allow the successful completion of Digital Identity.”

Key to this will be government moving to become less of a supplier and more of a standards setter for Digital ID, she suggested and thus ensuring interoperability of multiple ID solutions in both the public and private parts of the UK’s “Digital Economy”.

This would be helpful, she pointed out, as there is no mandate in UK culture for a single national database of citizen Identity, so a plurality of ID solutions needs to emerge.

And that’s an aim well worth working towards, she ended – claiming that as much as £75bn of “total economic value” could be accessed if we saved costs and reduced fraud and error in the pubic sphere and created easier conditions for “trusted trade” in the private economy.

“Thanks to Verify, we have standards and technology that work, are recognised internationally, and we can therefore continue to iterate and supply for the orderly [post-Verify] ID future you want.”