DCMS says £800 million to be saved by using digital ID

Experts also highlight public concerns over biometrics and the influence of digital ID on centralising relationships between government and citizens

Posted 20 September 2021 by Christine Horton

DCMS has pointed to an estimated £800 million a year in savings for UK businesses via the widespread use of digital identity.

Speaking at The Alan Turing Institute’s Trustworthy Digital Identity conference, Hannah Rutter, deputy director, digital identity and secure connected places, DCMS, provided an overview of the plans to set out standards within a Trust Framework for the development of digital identity products in the UK.

Rutter outlined the intent to introduce legislation that would enable more government datasets to be checked, so that people can prove who they are in the UK, not just by having a passport but, for example, checking against benefit statements or other bits of information that government already holds.

Elsewhere, Harry Farmer, researcher at the Ada Lovelace Institute, illustrated how public sensitivities to the use of biometrics are evolving with findings from its recent Citizens’ Biometrics Council.

“People are becoming sensitive to the fact that biometric ID systems can be used to enable a particular kind of ambient surveillance that is difficult to become aware of and quite difficult to escape, and they are aware of the potential of that kind of surveillance to undermine free, open societies,” he said.

At the same time he pointed to a desire to lower the stakes of failure and errors: “There was just a general feeling amongst the public that there should not be the use of biometric identification systems for anything where failure would be catastrophic.” 

Centralising relationships

Event participants also considered the influence of digital ID on centralising relationships between government and its citizens.

Katelyn Cioffi, research scholar, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYU School of Law, suggested digital ID is altering the relationships states have with their citizens, citing experiences in Uganda and lessons applicable to other countries, both developed and developing economies.

“I think the social contract behind the delivery of welfare payments has been affected by the introduction of digital ID. The authority to make determinations about the programme has become removed from the local communities where it was originally located. It has changed the way the social welfare system is viewed, as it is no longer seen as something local but something more centralised and much more dictated by powers that are beyond the local community,” she said.

Cioffi also pointed out that “Institutional responsibilities for administering the right to social security have become increasingly fragmented because of the introduction of the digital ID”. Over time, she said, pressures develop to service the infrastructure or coerce people to sign up.

“The infrastructure needs to be serviced and becomes a policy area of its own, rather than being seen as a mechanism of improving service delivery.

“Politics trumps everything. The nature of government in power can make nonsense of whatever design is implicit in particular ID systems. For example, in Afghanistan with the government who left placing precious data at the hands of the Taliban. What was used as a tool for management has become a hit list.”

The Think Digital Identity for Government conference takes place on November 25. It will focus on several hot topics in public sector digital identity including social inclusion, decentralised identity, the new government One Login scheme, the pensions dashboard, mobile driving licences, local government identity and international identity. The conference itself will be a hybrid event and accessible in person or online.