Editorial

‘Before tackling voter ID, the government must address its Digital Identity problem’

‘Despite the politically fraught history of Identity in the UK, modern encryption and decentralisation should allow us to shift away from old thinking,’ warns Andrew Bennett – a policy analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

Posted 23 October 2019 by

An analyst working for The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has just published a call for a new approach to Digital ID by Britain’s lawmakers.

‘ Identity is foundational to transforming the entire operating model of government’ – Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

Writing in The New Statesman, the analyst – Andrew Bennett, charges that current Tory plans to require photo ID off potential voters is missing the point.

“Debate is obscuring a far more fundamental problem: whether or not it’s used for voting, Britain needs a modern identity infrastructure,” he writes.

“And rather than narrowing in on a single application, the focus should be on the broader, transformational potential of a private, secure and decentralised [UK] Digital Identity.”

Bennett goes on to argue that the UK’s current “Byzantine” ID processes, based on having more than one all-too-insecure pieces of paper like a passport, leads to what he calls “endless loops of Kafkaesque bureaucracy”.

A better alternative, he posits, is to move to a more secure, integrated and electronic model instead: “To move forward, the government should put in place a fully secure, private and decentralised model of digital identity which is designed around users.

“In short, we need an easy, secure and inclusive way for people to authenticate themselves online.”

Bennett says that GOV.UK Verify was “a step in the right direction”, but that the next phase should really be all about “a simple digital wallet with data held securely on devices that users already trust” – an approach he thinks will dissolve many of the problems that are typically raised about Digital Identity, like the need for a potentially insecure massive, central Government ID database.

The prize: the very digital economy, he claims, the Government sees as so crucial to our national fortunes after we leave the EU:

“In every country that is serious about bringing itself up to the speed and standards of the internet era, Identity is foundational to transforming the entire operating model of government, helping to break down the inefficiencies which are so often a brake on progress.

“Despite the politically fraught history of identity in the UK, modern encryption and decentralisation should allow us to shift away from old thinking; yet we risk failing to move the debate on.

“It’s time to start over, with a privacy-protecting digital ID that puts citizens at the centre.”