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Insights

14 September 2020

Are you who you say you are?

Verification of Online Identities

Background

In today’s society, there is an increasing need for individuals to prove their identity online. Whether it is to access services, complete transactions, or register with a doctor, educational institution or professional body, it is hard to escape the need to prove who you are online, particularly at a time where face-to-face interactions are actively discouraged for health reasons.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) recently published a summary of responses to their 2019 call for evidence on easier and more secure ways of verifying online identities for individuals and businesses, and the Digital Identity Strategy Board (a newly created cross-government board) has devised a next steps plan for the use of digital identity in the UK.

According to DCMS, the government’s plans to enable the use of digital identities across the UK have been welcomed by leaders in the tech, business and civil society sectors. Individuals may also welcome the move as it could lead to improved ease of access to online services, quicker and easier transactions, as well as a reduction in identity fraud which has been on the rise in recent years.

What is a digital identity?

There is not as of yet a clear definition of a digital identity but it would be a means of individuals and businesses verifying who they are when interacting with others online. Respondents to the call for evidence noted that any system would need to be linked with authoritative government data in order to successfully establish a digital identity.

What does it mean for individuals and businesses?

Respondents highlighted that digital identities would result in improved user experience for individuals, as well as being an enabler to help individuals and businesses access services they are entitled to without repeatedly needing to prove who they are. Other evidence from respondents highlighted the economic benefits to businesses of individuals having digital identities – in particular, the time and resources saved in identity checking and other verification processes.

Next Steps

Alongside DCMS’ summary of responses, the Digital Identity Strategy Board issued a document noting that the government plans to:

  • update existing laws on identity checking to enable digital identity to be used as widely as possible;
  • consult on developing legislation for consumer protection relating to digital identity, specific rights for individuals and an ability to seek redress if something goes wrong;
  • set out where the responsibility for oversight should lie; and
  • consult on the appropriate privacy and technical standards for administering and processing secure digital identities.

The principles of privacy, transparency, inclusivity, interoperability, proportionality and good governance will be applied to guide policy decisions on digital identity.

Commentary

Developing a legal framework for digital identities which could work hand-in-hand with existing digital and e-signature technology can only increase the speed and ease with which individuals and businesses access services and complete transactions with one another online. However, concerns around how the system would deal with issues such as identity theft would need to be dealt with and robust security standards put in place to increase public trust in the concept of a digital identity.

From a data protection perspective, it will be essential to ensure that there is sufficient information and transparency provided to individuals around the creation and use of their digital identity, such that they are aware of who has access to their data and how it will be used. There will also need to be an element of choice and control for the individual.

We will continue to monitor how this initiative progresses and will review the legislation and related implications as and when published.

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