Gov.uk Verify digital identity chief pulls out, moves into private sector

Lisa Barrett, the digital identity chief of the Gov.uk Verify program, has resigned and is moving from the Digital Service (GDS) into the private sector, leaving behind unanswered funding questions, reports Computer Weekly.

Last year, the government announced measures to revive the digital identification service, which had received severe criticism, based on poor public uptake with low verification rates. A few months prior to the announcement, Lisa Barret had been named director.

So far, some £175 million (roughly US$226 million) has been spent in funding, which ends in March. The goal was to make Verify self-funding, but only two private sector identity providers out of five will remain involved in the project as of April – the Post Office and Dutch company Digidentity. Only 42 percent of attempts to create a Verify account are successful and less than 6 million people hold the digital ID.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has not released many details about Verify, and rumors say an announcement should be made when the budget is announced this week.

A number of pending initiatives were mentioned last year, including a Digital Identity Unit (DIU) with resources from GDS’s Verify team and the digital ID team at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The unit was expected by observers to be led by Barrett, according to the report.

At the end of 2019, the private sector was asked to provide feedback on the government’s role in a digital identity ecosystem. The results have not been published yet.

A trial to check digital identities based on passport data was planned for April 2020, but there have been no updates since October 2019.

Verify has been actively criticized, including by the National Audit Office which said, “(i)t is difficult to conclude that successive decisions to continue with Verify have been sufficiently justified.” Other institutions that criticized the program are the Public Accounts Committee and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which deemed it “unachievable.”

Verify was started more than six years ago and it was meant to be used as standard digital identity for online public and private services.

There are six million Verify accounts already in use to access 22 public services, but public sector organizations including the National Health Service are individually working on developing their own digital identity schemes

“Lisa is leaving to take up a new role in the private sector. We would like to thank Lisa for her incredible energy, commitment and dedication to GDS over the last year, and wish her every success for the future. We will announce her replacement in due course,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson said, according to Computer Weekly.

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