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UK government determined not to let a good digital identity crisis go to waste

privacy

There is apparently a trust problem around digital identities and no wonder, with talk of vaccine passports being required for previously unrestricted activities.

To address it the UK government today published its draft rules of engagement regarding the future use of digital identities. The big idea is to make it quicker and easier for people to verify themselves using modern technology. In other words create digital ID documents that are just as trusted as analogue ones such as passports and birth certificates.

On a lot if levels this is a great idea. We can already pay for things, store tickets and do banking on our phones, so why shouldn’t they be trusted for all other types of identification? If done properly a digital identity would be completely trusted and by the only form of ID you need. This is described as a ‘trust framework’ in the government policy paper.

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

He had to go and say ‘build back better’ didn’t he? And then they wonder why some people get spooked by the raft of new rules and regulations being pushed through under cover of the pandemic recovery. Build Back Better is a slogan adopted by many global politicians to signify the opportunity to use the economic wreckage brought on by the Covid pandemic and resulting lockdowns to introduce much more radical reform than would otherwise have been tolerated by the public. It’s closely aligned with the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset initiative.

Again, what’s not to like? There are certainly plenty of things that need improving and if we can steer the recovery in the most constructive direction then surely that’s a good thing. As ever with grand, top-down initiatives, the devil is not just in the detail, but in the other consequences, intended or otherwise.

That’s why it’s disturbing to hear politicians use that phrase in the same sentence as digital identity. What, exactly, would a ‘better’ digital identity look like? What data would it contain? Under what circumstances would it be required? Would it be mandatory and if so what would be the punishment for not having one? These sorts of question are why there has always been such resistance to the introduction of ID Cards.

This announcement comes just a day after a government Minister admitted we’re in talks with other countries to introduce some kind of vaccine passport, without which we wouldn’t be permitted to travel. Once that precedent is set, who’s to say there won’t be other activities, such as going to the pub, that will now be denied us unless our papers are in order?

“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,” said Cabinet Office Minister Julia Lopez. “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.”

It’s good to see the government look digital issues in the eye and this seems like another example of us looking to move quickly, unencumbered by EU bureaucracy. Done well, as robust and trusted digital ID would open up a host of opportunities for the individual. But if the government tries to sneak in extra levels of surveillance and restrictions at the same time it risks undermining public trust and thus the whole enterprise.


5 comments

  1. Avatar Keith Gould 12/02/2021 @ 11:11 am

    The danger in this proposal is that, if it’s crafted well, it’ll be positioned from the standpoint of convenience and then security but with the emphasis on the benefits for the individual. To a systems guy it seems like a real ball ache to have to have drivers license, passport, proof of health insurance, birth and marriage certificates all as separate documents. Even more inconvenient to have them all managed in different ways and currently paper based. However the biggest benefit from this is it makes it possible for us to expose only those elements of our privacy that we want to, and then only to an audience we deem to be entitled. I don’t think it would be long before any comprehensive universal digital ID would be used for purposes “out of band”. As usual, I’ll choose to believe the proposals are well intentioned and benign and then go on to compare such an ID with what happens when liberal democratic states find themselves under pressure, or are completely subverted by a less benign follow on administration. It would be lazy to suggest we could learn lessons from NAZI Germany on this matter, for more contemporary examples look to recent Russia, or the emerging right wing state in Poland.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 12/02/2021 @ 11:47 am

      Good points.

  2. Avatar Paul Dunn 19/02/2021 @ 10:18 pm

    They are all at it, ‘Build back better’, the hidden catchphrase to show you to have signed up to the Great Reset. Well, sorry to disappoint, but no-one asked me. And I shall take matters in to my own hands, by not complying. Now I have processed all this could ultimately mean: no flying, no this no that etc, but I won’t be co-erced in to a vaccine passport, a digital identity or anything else the government/ or virtual word government sets its sights on. My thoughts perhaps not on point in relation to your comments, but I’m angry and your happens to get the comment.
    Thanks for your piece above. Regards, Paul

  3. Avatar Ann Lewis 20/02/2021 @ 8:47 am

    This is so dangerous for the reasons already mentioned. It is not healthy for all our data to be held in one place, and how long before it becomes compulsory in the name of “concenience”. However benign it may appear at the moment, this method of operating leaves us all wide open to abuse should our government become less benign (assuming you believe they currently are benign of course). The Australian Broadcasting Corporation recently did a documentary on life in China. It showed how the use of powerful digital systems can be used by totalitarian states and it is truly frightening. Imagine if Poland an extreme right wing state had such a system in place. We have always fought against ID papers in the UK so why would we tolerate this digital version?

  4. Avatar Michael 11/03/2021 @ 11:56 pm

    Unfortunately I have to agree with the negative comments already posted in this regards. Before long you’ll be asked any type of jobsworth from the pub to the library to proof who you are. It’s a dangerous place to be, as the use of such credit scoring systems in China show. If you want to kill, creativity, kill the arts, the freedom of life itself, then this is the one you start that process, human beings are not machines and numbers to be marshalled and slotted into places, we are sovereign beings, who were born free and to be made into numbers to be used as pawns with no say or control in our lives. If that is what is to happen in future, a life lived that way would be worthless. The technocrats dream of eternal life unencumbered by mere mortals, but if that is their quest, they will become in the fullness of time mere machines who become less than human. We may have our failings, but that said, humans are far better than any machine can ever be and as they say be careful of what you wish for

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