Government unveils its new digital identity framework

Government releases details of trust framework regulating the use of digital identity in the UK

Posted 11 February 2021 by

The government has today published its rules governing the future use of digital identities.

The UK digital identity and attributes trust framework, first announced last year, lays out the draft rules that organisations should follow. It includes the principles, policies, procedures and standards governing the use of digital identity. This, says the government, will enable interoperability and increase public confidence.

It’s aim, it says, it to “create a process as trusted as using passports or bank statements.”

“Establishing trust online is absolutely essential if we are to unleash the future potential of our digital economy,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman, in a statement.

“Today we are publishing draft rules of the road to guide organisations using new digital identity technology and we want industry, civil society groups and the public to make their voices heard. Our aim is to help people confidently verify themselves while safeguarding their privacy so we can build back better and fairer from the pandemic.”

Long overdue

The framework, once finalised, is expected to be brought into law. It has specific standards and requirements for organisations which provide or use digital identity services including:

  • Having a data management policy which explains how they create, obtain, disclose, protect, and delete data
  • Following industry standards and best practice for information security and encryption
  • Telling the user if any changes, for example an update to their address, have been made to their digital identity
  • Where appropriate, having a detailed account recovery process and notifying users if organisations suspect someone has fraudulently accessed their account or used their digital identity
  • Following guidance on how to choose secure authenticators for their service

Organisations will be required to publish a yearly report explaining which demographics have been, or are likely to have been, excluded from their service and why. This, says the government, will help make firms aware if there are inclusivity problems in their products while also boosting transparency.

The framework will also help promote the use of ‘vouching’, where trusted people within the community such as doctors or teachers ‘vouch for’ or confirm a person’s identity, as a useful alternative for those without traditional documents, such as passports and driving licences.

To many, the new framework is long overdue. One report from think thank Policy Exchange, said the lack of reliable digital ID services is severely limiting the UK’s future as a leading digital economy.

Last year the Cabinet Office’s own annual report said that the government’s current digital identity programme, Gov.uk Verify, “continued to pose notable risks”, as it struggled to cope with demand for digital services in the early stages of lockdown.

“It’s a shame that the UK lost so much time on the unsuccessful Verify project. But I feel there’s more energy and appetite now in government to tackle digital ID than we’ve seen for many years. Let’s hope this moment won’t be wasted,” says Jessica Figueras, a tech strategist specialising in government, policy and regulation, and author of the local authority digital identity survey, Identifying as Citizens

Welcomed by industry

Economists have estimated the cost of manual offline identity proofing could be as high as £3.3 billion per year. The new plans will not only make people’s lives easier but also give a boost to the country’s £149 billion digital economy by creating new opportunities for innovation, enabling smoother, cheaper and more secure online transactions, and saving businesses time and money.

The move has been welcomed by industry and civil society groups which have praised the government’s open and collaborative approach, as it works to develop a final trust framework that meets the needs of all users.

Emma Lindley, Co-founder of Women in Identity, said she believes that digital identity systems should be inclusive and accessible for anyone that chooses to use them.

“This collaborative approach by the government in designing the trust framework is a step in the right direction towards accountability across all stakeholders who are involved, and ensures no one is left behind,” she said.

Ruled out ID cards

The framework has been developed after the government confirmed it would not be opting for national identity cards. It says the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will work with the digital identity community to develop the framework and aims to publish the next iteration in the summer. DCMS will continue its work on proposals on laws that will underpin the digital identity market and will consult on these later this year.

Cabinet Office Minister Julia Lopez said GDS (Government Digital Service) is working with DCMS and across Government to develop guidance and products in support of the trust framework.

“Products that help digitally to verify a person’s identity are becoming increasingly important as more areas of our work and home lives move online,” she said.

“Creating a common trust framework will give greater clarity and certainty to organisations who want to work in this field about what is expected of them. More importantly, however, it will help to deepen users’ trust and confidence in digital identities and the standards we expect in the safeguarding of their personal data and privacy.”