Sir Tony Blair calls for digital IDs as part of technology revolution

“In a world in which everything from vaccine status to aeroplane tickets and banking details are available on our personal devices, it is illogical that the same is not true of our individual public records,” says Sir Tony.

Posted 23 February 2023 by Christine Horton

Sir Tony Blair has called for everyone in Britain to be given a digital ID incorporating their passport, driving licence, tax records, qualifications and right to work. He said it would be the cornerstone of a “technology revolution”.

Courtesy of Times Radio

In a report co-authored by Sir Tony and Lord Hague the two former political rivals say that the British state must be dramatically reshaped if the country is to avoid being left behind by global technological advances.

The two say that there must be a cross-party consensus to “radically” change politics, putting technology at the heart of the NHS, schools and other public services.

“This is not about traditional left and right debates. It should lead to a more strategic state with an entirely new operating model,” they wrote in an article for The Times.

“We advocate reorganising the centre of Whitehall to drive the use of data and AI across government, including digital ID for every citizen, a national health infrastructure that uses data to improve care and keep costs down, and sovereign AI systems backed by supercomputing capabilities.”

They said that government should treat data as a competitive asset, use procurement to promote innovation in Britain, release risk capital by reforming pension fund rules and give more freedom to research institutions.

“It should continue to raise R&D funding, create new models of funding research, reform infrastructure planning to deliver fast decisions, personalise education with technology and build stronger partnerships on science with the EU and around the globe. Such a programme is the real growth agenda.”

Sir Tony and Lord Hague argue digital ID cards would make it easier and more secure for people to access services and for the government to understand their needs and better target support.

“In a world in which everything from vaccine status to aeroplane tickets and banking details are available on our personal devices, it is illogical that the same is not true of our individual public records,” they write.

However, the BBC reported that Silkie Carlo, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the “sprawling digital identity system” proposed by the pair “would be one of the biggest assaults on privacy ever seen in the UK”.

“Sir Tony and Lord Hague are absolutely right about the need for the UK to take leadership in technological innovation, but this means protecting people’s rights and privacy, not reviving failed proposals for an intrusive mass digital identity system and a database state,” she said.

Collaboration across both the public and private sector

Margaret Moore, business unit director (government and transport) at Sopra Steria UK and chair of the Open Identity Exchange (OIX) agreed digital IDs offer up the opportunity for a more reliable identity verification system which can be placed in the hands of consumers and reused across a multitude of services.

However she said such a future requires collaboration across both the public and private sector, addressing considerations and concerns spanning both business and technology.

“Critically, there is still much to be done to enable the boundaryless cross-sector use of a single digital identity, particularly when it comes to building trust. A framework for the standardisation of identity verification is essential – to improve consumer trust and reliability. Education also plays a central role in adoption for those unsure of the benefits of a digital identity, providing clear insights into how data is being stored and what it is being used for.  

“Digital IDs offer individuals the opportunity to have their own reusable and accessible data profile directly within their smartphone. With a digital ID consumers are able to disclose the relevant data, but not expose all their data – retaining the right to protect elements of their personal information that aren’t needed and share only what is essential. We’re on the cusp of digital identity becoming a reality and are heading towards a future characterised by a single, trusted digital identity that enables individuals to enter into trusted relationships in real-time and with ease. Fundamentally, digital identity has the potential to establish trust between organisations and real people in a digital world, but challenges to its adoption must be met head on, and soon.”

The Government Digital Service (GDS) says its focus is on growing adoption of the One Login for Government digital identity programme in the next two to three years. The goal of One Login is to provide a single cross- system offering citizens access to a range of services delivered across government departments.

Check out June’s Think Identity for Government event here.