‘We need to know the new ID rules of the road’

UK public and private sector Digital Identity leaders debate the future of a sector which is set to change for good in a few short months, when Verify stops being funded by Central Government

Posted 17 June 2019 by

“Telling the Digital Identity story’s been a bit difficult – but the story’s evolving, and I think there’s a breath of fresh air that’s come in from GDS that’s really helping.”

If there was one comment that summed up how the majority of the UK Digital Identity public sector community feel about what’s happened since GDS’s new Director of Digital Identity, Lisa Barrett, came on board three or so months ago – that sentence above would probably be it.

We base that on the large number of heads nodding in agreement when it was uttered earlier this month at the last Think Digital Identity For Government 2019, where buyers and sellers of Digital ID solutions across the public and the private sectors gathered in Westminster to debate where we’re all going, short months ahead of Verify being handed over to the private sector.

The source of our quote is also pretty impeccable, when it comes to judging where Whitehall is at any moment with all things Identity – Cheryl Stevens, DWP Digital’s Deputy Director, Identity & Trust Services.

Stevens made her observation at the start of a well-attended morning panel at the conference where Identity Leaders like herself, Barrett, DCMS’s Andrew Elliot, The Post Office’s Managing Director for Identity Services Martin Edwards, and Barrett’s GDS colleague Alastair Treharne debated the current and future state of ID play.

Their conversation ranged from the immediate challenges faced by the Verify scheme to the wider context of Identity in the public sector – the latter defined by DCMS’s Elliot as the need to “make Digital Identity work for the broader [national] Digital Economy”: “As we get nearer to April 2020 [when the Government will stop financially supporting Verify] we need a system that’s scalable across the economy that can meet private sector demand.”

And speaking for his sector, The Post Office’s Edwards welcomed the new sense that ID was a matter of “collaboration” between Government and the rest of the economy, there does seem some hope of this, with GDS’s Barrett also noting that her team are working to “create the right conditions for private sector investment in Identity”.

But as Stevens cautioned, this must only happen in the right context for real success. “[We] need to have the new ID ‘rules of the road’ made very clear, and standards need to be well written, too.”

Stevens also noted that there needs to be a shift in these standards for them to be more private-sector friendly – something Edwards immediately picked up on:

“To really open this market up outside of Government, you have to have a real partnership approach. Few people know about Verify, and what they do know about it they know [in negative terms] from things like the NAO report.

“We do not minimise our reaction to the criticism and feedback from things like that report,” noted Barrett, however.

“We have a responsibility to bring different perspectives and players to [the ID] table as a result.”

Edwards said that there’s a lot to be proud of with what Verify achieved, at least in technical terms, but the panel did acknowledge there were problems. Hence the need for what Stevens sees as a new orientation for ID going forward:

“We need to give all this a much more human feel. Identity often gets needed at key life events for people which aren’t always good life events, so I think we need to work harder at making their access and on-boarding a lot better than it has been.”

Diversity and inclusion were also identified as critical by Edwards, who wonders how our ID solutions can be made attractive to people who just don’t have £80 spare to buy a paper passport.”

And, again, many in the Hall nodded in agreement with another great summary of where we are with ID right now in this country when Trehane stated that, “Verify is just one [Identity] technology implementation. And there is plenty of space for others.”