Interview: Ophelia King, head of market development for digital identity, DCMS

Ophelia King, head of market development for digital identity, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport talks about DCMS’s plan to deliver a trusted digital identity framework

Posted 18 November 2021 by Christine Horton

What is the role of market development within Digital Identity? Can you highlight some of your objectives?

Our objective is to enable a trusted digital identity provision in the UK that maintains users’ choice, security and control of their data, while supporting growth and innovation across the economy. This will give individuals and organisations more choice about how they prove things about themselves, and will also enable smoother, cheaper and more secure online transactions.

Our response to the digital identity Call for Evidence last year outlines how the government will support this exciting, innovative sector, while focusing on privacy, inclusion and international interoperability. We have committed to:

  • Creating a clear framework of standards and rules that show what ‘good’ digital identities look like, called the UK digital identity and attributes trust framework
  • Establishing a governance function to own and enforce these rules, and keep them up to to date; and
  • Developing proposals to remove legislative and regulatory blockers, such as establishing the legal validity of digital identities, so people are confident they are as good as physical documents like passports or bank statements.

These commitments will set the rules of the road, with the government focusing on the things only the government can change, while leaving space for the innovative drive of the market to develop services that will meet the needs of consumers from all walks of life.

In order to ensure the growth of a digital identity market in the UK, it’s crucial we are constantly listening to our stakeholders. Being open with our policy development, even when we are at an early stage of our thinking, is vital to ensure the standards and rules meet the needs of those who will eventually use them every day.

My role as head of market development for digital identity has been to create an open dialogue with as many groups, companies and representatives as possible; listening, understanding, and adapting our drafts so the finished product is built on strong foundations.

Are there any projects on which you’re currently working that you can talk about?

Since publishing the UK Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework in February as a first stage industry prototype and using feedback received to publish the second iteration in August, we are continuing to refine and improve the framework.

We are working closely with stakeholders from civil society, academia, and the public and private sector, but are also looking towards the next stages of testing the framework to make sure people and businesses know what a good digital identity looks like.

At present, this testing is focused on enabling organisations to self-assess against the relevant rules of the trust framework, with some organisations going on to have a mock audit completed. This testing will not only provide us with useful feedback to develop the beta version of the framework, but will also inform our plans for the next phase of trust framework testing – including sandbox style testing – which we hope to share more information on soon.

At a high level, what role do you think digital identity will play for the UK going forward?

Digital identity plays a crucial role in supporting the development of the digital economy in the UK and has the potential to enable the implementation of safe and secure solutions that work for businesses and society alike.

It’s estimated that widespread use of digital identity products could be worth over £800 million per year to the UK economy. This is in the context of DCMS’s wider ambitions such as leveling up digital prosperity across the UK, keeping the UK safe and secure online, and building a tech-savvy nation.

We also know that digital identity can help to reduce the record levels of identity fraud in the UK. With just over thousands of cases reported in 2020 – bearing in mind each case has a long lasting and damaging impact on the individual and the state – a trusted legislative, governance and standards framework for digital identity in the UK could help break the cycle.

How much has the digitalisation of services over the past 12 months accelerated or impacted the agenda around digital identity?

During the last twelve months we have seen a step change in how various sectors view the importance of the agenda, especially the development of the trust framework. They recognise that this shift into digital has not only been a dramatic one, but also one that is only going to keep on increasing in demand and expectation. The trust framework – and in particular the way we have worked on it in the open – is one of the foundational pillars that will enable a trusted and secure framework to which business, their customers, the public, and civil society can rely on.

We look forward to continuing to work with all our stakeholders so that we can make the trust framework as robust and useful as possible.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities associated with implementing a new digital identity framework?

We want to make sure that people and organisations can trust who they are dealing with as easily when transacting online as they do when dealing with others in the physical world, and the implementation of the Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework provides an excellent opportunity to do just that. By setting the common rules of the road, we are enabling people to be able to provide who they are or things about themselves easily and securely. These are all things that the development of the digital economy depends on.

One of the other key opportunities are the ways in which we can collaborate to develop policy and implement the framework. By bringing together such a large group of stakeholders, we have been able to develop policy openly by testing our ideas and assumptions to ensure that the key players in this market are able to debate and understand other points of view and possibilities for market development.

There are, of course, a number of challenges that are presented with the implementation of the framework. Particular challenges include working with such a broad group of stakeholders with competing views as we further refine the framework, and ensuring that we vigorously test the framework to ensure that it is effective when it eventually goes live. These are all significant challenges that we will face over the coming months, but I’m looking forward to working with you all to get this right.