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UK plans single digital identity to access all services in an expanding government website

UK plans single digital identity to access all services in an expanding government website
 

Gov.uk will continue to subsume other public-facing government sites as it creates user accounts and a digital identity solution that will allow a single sign-on for all services, from annual vehicle checks to child adoption.

A blog post by the CEO of the British Cabinet office division Government Digital Service (GDS) details a refreshed set of priorities for 2021 to 24.

According to the post, in the decade since the GDS was formed and the government portal Gov.uk launched, the focus has been on bringing a plethora of government sites together (more than 2,000 so far), which had been developed separately by departments to suit their needs at the time.

The recently appointed CEO of the GDS, Tom Read, announces a whole new phase: “GDS is no longer in start-up mode. Of our circa £90 million budget this year and with more than 800 people, around 60 percent are needed to support our existing platforms, services and content. This includes ensuring GOV.UK, which is a vital resource for millions of citizens, is available, reliable and has up to date information.”

The vision requires a new set of missions over the coming three years which aim to further anchor Gov.uk as the foremost trusted site for government information and services; to join up services; create common tools which departments can use to create digital forms rather than PDFs and put more user data into analytical systems in the process; and link data across departments. There is even the hope that the open-source code created will be used around the world.

‘Simple digital identity solution’

“Most government services’ existing login and digital identity solutions have been designed, developed and operated in departmental silos, with a focus only on meeting each department’s needs,” writes Read. “For users, this is a confusing and frustrating picture; for government, this is expensive and leaves the door open for fraud.”

The existing identity checker, Gov.uk Verify, which requires having a physical credential such as passport or driving licence, is on its way out. But Read is vague on the mechanics of Verify’s replacement. Despite Gov.uk’s typically simple and straightforward explanation of how Verify works, the fact that users have to begin with an uninformed decision as to who checks their identity – the Post Office or Digidentity – it is immediately off-putting.

Read says that the new service will be “built in partnership with other government departments; the identity checking service needs to work for everyone in the country, regardless of their socio-economic situation. For example, someone who is a prison leaver and may not have a fixed location, or someone with an address but has a passport that has expired.”

The blog details the aim to introduce accounts which would allow users to log in with one user ID and then access potentially thousands of government services. An account would allow autofilling of forms and should mean a person can update all relevant government departments of changes in their circumstances such as a name change or becoming unemployed.

The blog does not state whether Gov.uk users would create a new ID specifically for the site or whether it would verify against existing credentials. The UK does not have a national ID system, and does not require citizens to carry ID. However, proving one’s identity could become increasingly frequent. The latest Queen’s speech included the Election Integrity Bill which will require voters to confirm their identity with photo ID.

Land Registry clues?

One government department may be shedding more light on what may be required as it creates its own (siloed?) digital identity standard. HM Land Registry, whose services are embedded in the Gov.uk site is requiring strict biometric verification.

In its own blog post in March 2021, the registry delivered an update on the feedback it had received for its proposed identity verification process. The registry, which deals with conveyancer services for real estate transactions, is launching biometric and cryptographic standards for verifying the identity of the people involved in the transaction and that they are linked to the land.

HM Land Registry published its digital identity standard listing the requirements. Credentials such as biometric passports or EU ID cards are needed, but the biometric data has to accessed and verified, meaning conveyancers will need to work with identity verification partners.

Liveness detection is required, as are biometric anti-spoofing checks. Once established, the standard should speed up and tighten identity checks.

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