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Will slow progress in digital identity mean that the UK is left behind?

Will slow progress in digital identity mean that the UK is left behind?

By Gareth Narinesingh, Head of Digital Identity at Mitek

The UK’s delay in the adoption of digital identity (DID) could lead to the country being left behind in the next digital revolution. As a result of being slower off the mark with DID in comparison to other European countries, the UK has seen limited progress in identity-linked applications, such as digital signatures and verifiable credentials. But why is the UK slower to build trust in digital identity?

Failed attempts to create a national identity scheme over the past three decades have created a roadblock to DID progress. Growing negative public sentiment combined with continual delays to significant government legislations and trust scheme pilots have left the UK lagging behind. This has left a vacuum in confidence and an absence of required technical infrastructure in its wake. But surely, with an estimated economic value of 3 to 13 percent of GDP by 2030, and backing from former UK political leaders, DID is a technology worth the investment.

Trust framework has not changed UK sentiment

Historically, UK public sentiment has resembled a Big Brother mentality when it comes to national ID schemes, exacerbated by COVID vaccine passports and perceived government tracking.

Now, an identity paradox is evident. People are concerned with how their personal data is used by third parties and government bodies, yet still use big tech platforms and social media that they know will harvest and monetize their data. For instance, the uproar from the British public around the government’s use of their personal data is a stark comparison to other nations in Europe, where accessing public services with digital ID has fast become the norm.

Published in 2021, the UK Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework (DIATF) aimed to build trust in digital identity, yet to date has had a limited effect. The framework prescribes that digital identity can be deployed in selected public/private sector use cases, with initial DID checks prescribed for DBS, Right to Work and Right to Rent screening. The new Beta version of the DIATF places new requirements on certified digital identity service providers. However, until the DIATF is legislated through the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill and given equivalent legal status to digital identities and government-issued identity documents, then it will struggle to bridge the trust gap between consumers, businesses, citizens, and government departments. Therefore, we believe that strong legislation needs to be in place to drive meaningful change in DID.

The UK must learn digital identity best practices from other nations

The UK’s lack of a national identity system means that it is not quite as simple as digitally tokenizing a government-issued identity document. Other countries highlight what is possible due to a government-backed identity scheme. SingPass in Singapore, PhilSys in the Philippines, and Estonia’s eID have experienced great success and public approval, with the EU in the process of creating its own DID trust framework under eIDAS2. The European Commission’s recommendation will enable secure and seamless cross-border electronic interactions and wider access to public and private services, whilst creating a pan-European market for trust services. This is a great idea in principle that will likely follow the success of other nations, however, it is a mammoth task for all 27 EU member states to agree on and implement standards.

Legislation will drive initial trust and adoption of digital identity

In the UK however, legislation may be the solution to combat weak DID trust scheme pilots and a lack of a national identity scheme. One of the drivers pushing the legislation of reusable digital identity in the UK is anonymous age verification to protect minors online. However, legislation which promotes digital identity has a track record of being delayed or amended at the last minute.

Legislation will drive initial trust and adoption of DID in public services, which is anticipated through the new GOV.UK One Login service. This could have a trickle-down effect in securing public trust. For instance, 80 percent of the UK public trust the NHS, and over 30 million British citizens have downloaded the NHS App, so a breakthrough in a public service DID app like the One Login service would be a great way to build trust. Other countries have found that a vertical route is key, such as the Nordics’ BankID for financial services.

If the UK does not catch up with the rest of the world’s digital identity adoption, we will fall behind in the next digital revolution, unable to capitalise on the opportunities it presents to industry and society.

Pushing for digital identity progress in the UK

Progress with digital identity hinges on four main factors.

  1. A move towards a true understanding and trust in self-sovereign identity. This puts individuals in charge of their own identity, using it to achieve beneficial outcomes and share less personal information. This can only be achieved through raising awareness, including education on how data is traded by third parties.
  2. Legislation that will drive identity-linked functionality and deliver everyday utility for the general public, such as signing documents, proving eligibility and evidencing qualifications. The UK government must prioritize technological advances which benefit society, cycling legislative bills through Parliament and passing them into law much quicker. We hope that this focus can be delivered by the new Department of Science, Technology, and Innovation.
  3. Collaboration between key industries, certified digital identity providers, and government services will be vital to bring use cases into practice, including the ability to deliver focused pilots and proof of concept work.
  4. Strong partnerships and creative leadership from identity solution providers. In a strong and competitive market, there will always be more than one provider, so the sector needs to grow together, cooperate, and benefit from each other’s experience. The end goal must be to build more functionality anchored to identity that will bring benefits to society.

UK digital identity is a complex concept with many barriers to overcome but with enormous upside benefits. The way forward is through private and public sector collaboration, developing use cases which truly promote value creation, and encouraging risk-taking in R&D innovation. This will enable identity leaders to create new products centred on utility and anchored to verified identities. We’re moving in the right direction, and with the right legislation, infrastructure, and educational resources in place to support it, DID will bring unprecedented benefits to UK society.

About the author

Gareth Narinesingh is Head of Digital Identity at Mitek.

DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.

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