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The UK prepares for a Conservative take on digital IDs

The UK prepares for a Conservative take on digital IDs

How persistent is the idea that a national digital ID would be good for the UK?

Fourteen years ago, a Labour government championed a digital ID experiment, an effort that was immediately crushed by the very next Conservative government, in 2010.

A rising personality in Britain’s Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, said in 2004 that he would “physically eat” an ID card before using it for its intended purpose, according to the Independent newspaper.

It is Johnson’s party today that is saying the UK, its economy and its citizens need a national digital ID, one that would not involve a physical card.

The campaign to crush this iteration is underway. Conservative David Davis, a former cabinet minister, said it was a “bonkers” idea, one straight out of the former East German secret police handbook.

Regardless, Johnson’s government says a secure digital ID system would grease online transactions, including those provisioning government services and benefits. Even transactions in the physical world that require age verification reportedly would be easier.

It also would cut down on identity fraud, according to the government. It cites figures showing that the five years ending in 2019 (all presided over by Conservative governments) saw identity fraud rise 32 percent.

The change of heart might come down to London’s unqualified success in processing 2.6 million claims for self-employment income support during the pandemic. Fully 1.4 million of those claims were by taxpayers who had had no digital ID file.

It also could be a result of predictions that the digital ID sector of the economy could add 3 percent to the UK’s gross domestic product by 2030.

Among the government’s first step in this latest ID project, will be updating laws on how identities are verified to broaden digital documentation’s use.

Government leaders are saying they are open to modernizing consumer protection laws and giving people “an ability to seek redress if something goes wrong.” They say they also will “consult on the appropriate privacy and technical standards for administering and processing secure digital identities.”

In fact, a new government unit called the Digital Identity Strategy Board has come up with boilerplate principles for the effort on topics including privacy, interoperability, good governance and transparency.

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