The need for governments worldwide to digitize services in response to Covid-19 means that citizens are now required to use digital channels to prove their identities. But that is a challenge for the almost one billion people that do not have any form of legal ID, or for those that have ID documents that are hard to digitize.
Without a recognized ID, it may be difficult to enroll in a school, open a bank account, claim pensions, access healthcare, or register a business. Governments around the world are tackling the problem, but progress towards creating digital identities is being hampered by countries moving at different speeds, problems with standards, and interoperability headaches.
Earlier this year, the UK government carried out a consultation, asking for views on how a digital identity system should operate, including proposals for a governing body that will be charged with making sure organizations follow government rules on digital identity.
It followed the publication of a ‘trust framework’ that laid out a set of rules organizations should follow, including the principles, policies, procedures, and standards governing the use of digital identity. The framework sets out how organizations should handle and protect people’s data, what security and encryption standards should be followed, how user accounts should be managed, and how to protect against fraud and misuse.
Digital identity for the government in the UK has been a thorny issue for years. The UK Government spent years pursuing a ‘Verify’ digital ID scheme—under which accredited businesses could provide ID verification to citizens—but key government departments refused to adopt the system. Verify was launched in 2013 with a goal of 25 million users by 2020 and every government department using the system. Nine years and GBP175 million later, the project—with fewer than eight million users—was abandoned due to “over elaborate expectations trajectory and cost.”
The UK is now working on a pilot for a ‘one-login’ system for the public sector, with users only having to provide ID data once to access a range of services.
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Managing social inclusion
The issues around digital identity include how to manage social inclusion, how a cash-poor local government can tackle digital identity, as well as harmonizing the international picture.
In terms of social inclusion, one of the issues for departments (such as the Department for Work and Pensions) has been coping with Covid-19. Designing effective processes to minimize social inclusion is difficult when that design must be done behind closed doors because of Covid-19.
One of the international leaders is New Zealand. While the UK consults over a trust framework, New Zealand is closer to legislating. New Zealand’s Digital Identity Services Trust Framework Bill received its first reading in October and has now been referred for review and public comment.
Digital ID trust and standards
In the US, digital identity development is taking place with several organizations—including many US states—all developing schemes. There is already a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standard for digital identity in place, and though it is considered a ‘gold standard’ by many, it is seen as not having kept pace with technology.
A further issue is that while trust frameworks are now being developed by countries, they all need to be supported by a legal framework, which takes time to be put in place.
Future considerations around digital identity relate to how it can potentially be used to facilitate business transactions, particularly around supply chain assets—such as machinery, livestock, and car parts.