UK government launches plan to save its Verify digital identity service

The UK government has announced a series of steps to revive its flagging Gov.uk Verify digital identification service, including an industry consultation, the creation of a new government body to facilitate public-private collaboration and ensure interoperable standards are adopted, and the launch of a new government technology innovation strategy.

Verify has been stung by severe criticism, based on poor public uptake with low verification rates, but the Government Digital Service (GDS) also appointed Lisa Barrett as its first director of digital identity only a few months ago. Barrett laid out priorities for Verify, including making the rules clearer to encourage private sector investment and improving user experience, at the recent Think Digital Identity in Government conference, as reported by Computer Weekly. Barrett described a wider digital identity ecosystem, with Verify as just one technology implementation within it, and noted that the Post Office, one of two largest existing identity providers, is trialling ways to expand the system.

Computer Weekly reports that Barrett was described by others at the conference as “a breath of fresh air,” but she was then unable to reveal some of the steps being taken to improve Verify.

Speaking at the Identity Week conference, Minister for Implementation Oliver Dowden set out those next steps.

The new Digital Identity Unit is a partnership between the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS). The government is also engaging the private sector to establish a commercial framework for businesses to provide digital identity for use with public services. The government hopes to bring this capability online by April 2020.

Yoti Director of Regulatory and Policy Julie Dawson says the company welcomes the new unit, and argues that digital identity enables citizens to fully benefit from digital innovation. “This needs government to adapt legislation to be able to accept digital identities, and to acknowledge parity with physical documents,” Dawson says, according to isBuzz news.

“This new government unit needs to recognise that private sector companies also need to have access to public data sources so there is a level playing field for all identity providers. One of the main drawbacks of Gov.UK Verify was that it initially started with government use cases, but people interact with the private sector far more day to day. Additionally, any identity system needs to give consumers utility and protect consumers’ identity and personal data.”

The UK government will also work with Singapore’s government on interoperability between the two countries’ national identity systems, Dowden announced according to Computer Weekly.

Dowden acknowledged criticism of Verify, and suggested the government is focused on improving it.

“But the assets the government has developed around digital identity have blazed a trail for a safe and secure digital identity system, with privacy at its heart, and this work provides a good foundation on which to build for the future,” he says.

Dowden also recently unveiled the government’s Guide to Using AI in the Public Sector.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority recommended that Verify be terminated last year, and the National Audit Office report referred to above shows that GDS had reduced its forecasted benefit from Verify by 75 percent. Members of Parliament on the Public Accounts Committee have since found the program is failing its users, and has suffered from a lack of accountability among leadership.

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