Online identity checks criticized as UK trials government services access system

The UK’s incoming “porn block” is a test of a system of digital identity checks which could soon restrict everything from internet shopping to social media, and a “milestone in the death of anonymity online,” according to a Sky News editorial.

Technology correspondent Rowland Manthorpe writes that the Online Harms white paper by the Information Commissioner’s Office presents “ingenious and far-reaching” measures, such as restricting data collection and limiting “nudges” such as “likes,” but most importantly it suggests that young people be identified and treated differently on the internet. While the porn block is meant to introduce enough friction to block access for the majority of underage users, a robust age verification system which goes further and builds ID checks into the foundation of internet use is the government’s goal, according to the report.

Age verification came into force for online gambling in the UK on May 7, and Manthorpe notes that the Home Office has begun exploring age verification technology.

Yoti and OCL are both aiming to provide an identity credential the individual “owns” on his or her smartphone, but Manthorpe is concerned that checks on porn and gambling will extend to purchases of knives and alcohol, and from there to vaping and streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, if the porn block is successful.

Yoti was recently approved for biometric digital ID age checks for purchases of energy drinks, lottery tickets, and tobacco products by the UK’s Association of Convenience Stores.

“Thanks to its ill-conceived porn block, the government has quietly blundered into the creation of a digital passport – then outsourced its development to private firms, without setting clear limits on how it is to be used,” he writes.

The Gov.UK Verify service, which is the government’s digital ID check, had signed up only 3.6 million people as of February, and succeeded in verification only 48 percent of the time, perhaps boding ill for the likelihood of digital ID system success, as currently conceived.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is trialing an online identification program to provide vulnerable citizens with better access to public services, Computer Weekly reports.

Technology supplier Etive, the Government Digital Service (GDS), the Post Office, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have partnered on the project, which is interoperable with Gov.UK Verify. Etive’s Digital Log Book (DLB) will be used by the Post Office to create digital identity accounts according to government criteria. Tower Hamlets residents will be able to use the accounts for access to housing, education and employment services to start, with more planned for future roll-out.

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