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Digital identities are the building blocks of our future digital economy

Plans reveal how data can be shared between organisations so they run smoother and users can access services more easily

The government has today published the second version of its digital identity trust framework which is part of plans to make it faster and easier for people to verify themselves using modern technology through a process as trusted as using drivers licenses or passports.

These latest draft rules of the road for governing the future use of digital identities follow the publication of the first version of the trust framework in February 2021 and the consultation last month. The framework incorporates extensive feedback from an online survey and government engagement sessions with a range of external organisations.

The framework shows how organisations can be certified to provide secure digital identity services, they will have to go through an assessment process with an independent certification body. It also states how data can be shared between organisations and announces the government will start testing the framework in partnership with service providers.

Applications have opened for organisations interested in taking part in the testing process, which will involve organisations assessing where their service meets the proposed trust framework rules and providing feedback to the government. This process will prepare organisations for full certification in the future, as well as help the government to refine trust framework rules so they work for both people and organisations.

Once finalised, the government plans to bring the framework into law and make it easier and safer for people to use digital services to prove who they are or verify something about themselves. The updated framework published today includes:

  • Details on how organisations will become certified against the trust framework in the future, including how the independent assessment will take place. The process will involve bodies accredited by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) completing service audits to assess eligibility.
  • New guidance on how organisations can work together to create a consistent approach, which delivers a better user experience and reduces the need for burdensome and repetitive verification processes. It outlines how organisations describe data in the same format so other organisations know the method of identity verification used.
  • Clearer definitions for the trust framework’s roles so organisations can better understand which applies to their specific service, depending on how they are managing data.
  • Refined rules on areas such as how to manage digital identity accounts, where detailed.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:

“Whether someone wants to prove who they are when starting a job, moving house or shopping online, they ought to have the tools to do so quickly and securely.

“We are developing a new digital identity framework so people can confidently verify themselves using modern technology and organisations have the clarity they need to provide these services.

“This will make life easier and safer for people right across the country and lay the building blocks of our future digital economy.”

Plans for governing body to make digital identities as trusted as passports 

Man using smartphone

19th July 2021: New proposals for governing body to ensure safe and secure use of digital identity

  • Plans to boost legal status of digital identities to make them as widely recognised as driver’s licences and bank statements
  • Easily recognised trustmarks to be issued for digital identity products to build public confidence

Plans to create a new system to make digital identities as trusted and secure as official documents, such as passports, have been published by the government.

Digital identities allow people to easily and quickly prove their identity, such as when buying a house or starting a new job, without the time, effort and expense currently involved when using a physical document.

The technology, which can take a number of forms such as a phone app or other web-based service, has many advantages over paper documents. For instance, 220,000 cases of personal data abuse and impersonation were recorded in 2019. Digital identities could help reduce these cases as they are much harder for fraudsters to access and replicate.

They also boost privacy by restricting the personal information an organisation sees to precisely what is required. For example, someone buying age-restricted goods would be able to prove they are over 18 without needing to disclose their date of birth, name or address.

Today the government launched a consultation on proposals for a governing body charged with making sure organisations follow government rules, developed with industry and published in draft form earlier this year, that allow digital identity companies to prove they adhere to the highest standards of security and privacy.

The body – which could be housed within an existing regulator – would have powers to issue an easily recognised trustmark to digital identity firms which certifies that people’s data will be handled in a safe and consistent way. It will work with organisations to take proactive action to prevent and enable the detection of fraud and security incidents, as well as encouraging inclusion.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:

The plans laid out today will ensure people can trust the app in their pocket as much as their passport when proving their identity.

Digital identities offer a huge opportunity to make checks easier, quicker and more secure, and help people who do not have traditional forms of ID to prove who they are.

This technology is a vital building block for the economy of the future, and we’re ensuring that people who choose to use it can have confidence their data will be handled safely.

Digital identity will widen access to legally valid forms of identification for people who currently find it difficult to prove something about themselves. For example, if someone does not have access to an official document, such as a passport, they may be able to prove their identity digitally through another government service, or other means such as a vouch from a doctor or other trustworthy source.

To ensure digital identity products are available to as many people as possible, businesses will be required to report annually to the governing body on which users are excluded from using their services and outline what is being done to mitigate this.

Equally, digital identity use will not be mandatory and people will retain the option to use available paper documentation.

It also suggests new powers to allow digital identities to be built on a greater range of trusted datasets – such as those managed by the DVLA, or the General Register Office which are responsible for birth certificates. It proposes allowing digital identity businesses to ask government authorities to confirm whether a piece of information, such as someone’s age or address, is valid and matches their records.

Just as the government is committed to not making digital identities compulsory in the UK, it also wants to ensure that people in the future are not forced to use traditional identity documents, if these are not strictly required.

The consultation sets out how the government can build confidence in digital IDs so they have a similar status in law as physical proofs of identity that businesses and individuals already trust.

The consultation is open to any member of the public and closes on 13 September.

Published 19 July 2021
Last updated 19 July 2021 + show all updates

  1. Added link to the consultation. Added cyber security tag.

  2. First published.

Government sets out new plans to help build trust in use of digital identities 

11 February 2021: The government has today published its draft rules of the road for governing the future use of digital identities.

A photo of a multicoloured fingerprint

  • Public invited to contribute to draft rules around data protection, security and inclusivity
  • Part of work to help people prove who they are without the need for physical documents
  • Aim is to make people’s lives easier and boost the country’s £149 billion digital economy

The government has today published its draft rules of the road for governing the future use of digital identities. It is part of plans to make it quicker and easier for people to verify themselves using modern technology and create a process as trusted as using passports or bank statements.

Digital identity products allow people to prove who they are, where they live or how old they are. They are set to revolutionise transactions such as buying a house, when people are often required to prove their identity multiple times to a bank, conveyancer or estate agent, and buying age-restricted goods online or in person.

The new ‘trust framework’ lays out the draft rules of the road organisations should follow. It includes the principles, policies, procedures and standards governing the use of digital identity to allow for the sharing of information to check people’s identities or personal details, such as a user’s address or age, in a trusted and consistent way. This will enable interoperability and increase public confidence.

The framework, once finalised, is expected to be brought into law. It has specific standards and requirements for organisations which provide or use digital identity services including:

  • Having a data management policy which explains how they create, obtain, disclose, protect, and delete data;
  • Following industry standards and best practice for information security and encryption;
  • Telling the user if any changes, for example an update to their address, have been made to their digital identity;
  • Where appropriate, having a detailed account recovery process and notifying users if organisations suspect someone has fraudulently accessed their account or used their digital identity;
  • Following guidance on how to choose secure authenticators for their service.

Organisations will be required to publish a yearly report explaining which demographics have been, or are likely to have been, excluded from their service and why. The move will help make firms aware if there are inclusivity problems in their products while also boosting transparency.

The framework will also help promote the use of ‘vouching’, where trusted people within the community such as doctors or teachers ‘vouch for’ or confirm a person’s identity, as a useful alternative for those without traditional documents, such as passports and driving licences.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:

Establishing trust online is absolutely essential if we are to unleash the future potential of our digital economy.

Today we are publishing draft rules of the road to guide organisations using new digital identity technology and we want industry, civil society groups and the public to make their voices heard.

Our aim is to help people confidently verify themselves while safeguarding their privacy so we can build back better and fairer from the pandemic.

Economists have estimated the cost of manual offline identity proofing could be as high as £3.3 billion per year. The new plans will not only make people’s lives easier but also give a boost to the country’s £149 billion digital economy by creating new opportunities for innovation, enabling smoother, cheaper and more secure online transactions, and saving businesses time and money.

The move has been welcomed by industry and civil society groups which have praised the government’s open and collaborative approach, as it works to develop a final trust framework that meets the needs of all users.

Stuart Young, Managing Director at Etive Technologies, said:

“This framework is key to developing a trusted digital identity market that will make people’s lives easier and save businesses time and money.

We look forward to contributing further to these plans to help make sure the final framework works for everyone in the home buying and selling sector.

Emma Lindley, Co-founder of Women In Identity, said:

We believe that digital identity systems should be inclusive and accessible for anyone that chooses to use them.

This collaborative approach by the government in designing the trust framework is a step in the right direction towards accountability across all stakeholders who are involved, and ensures no one is left behind.

The ‘trust framework’ forms part of the government’s commitment to taking a leading role in developing the digital identity market without the need for national identity cards. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will work with the digital identity community to develop the framework and aims to publish the next iteration in the summer. DCMS continues its work on proposals on laws that will underpin the digital identity market and will consult on these later this year.

Cabinet Office Minister Julia Lopez said:

Products that help digitally to verify a person’s identity are becoming increasingly important as more areas of our work and home lives move online. Creating a common trust framework will give greater clarity and certainty to organisations who want to work in this field about what is expected of them. More importantly, however, it will help to deepen users’ trust and confidence in digital identities and the standards we expect in the safeguarding of their personal data and privacy.

GDS is working closely with DCMS and across Government to develop guidance and products in support of the trust framework. We believe building users’ confidence will be fundamental to delivering our overall ambition to make it much easier and simpler for citizens to access government services online.

The full UK Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework is available online, along with details of how to provide comments and feedback.

The new proposals, drawn up by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), will help restrict opportunities for criminals and allow organisations who choose to sign up know they are meeting the necessary requirements. This will help give people confidence that particular service protects their data and privacy.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman chaired a series of roundtable sessions with industry and civil society groups in the autumn to hear first hand their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges involved in the government’s trust framework ambitions.

The Alan Turing Institute harnesses global expertise with International Advisory Board for Trustworthy Digital Identity 

9 December 2020: The Alan Turing Institute is pleased to announce its International Advisory Board for Trustworthy Digital Infrastructure for Identity Systems. This initiative brings together leaders in the global effort to advance recognition for identity as a human right with trailblazers in government that are driving new opportunities with digital identity, playing a pivotal role in the Turing’s effort to apply the rigour of academic research to current developments in digital identity systems.

“This Advisory Board is a unique forum set up to enrich understanding of our growing reliance on digital identity systems and the robust considerations needed to avoid harm, address inequalities and protect the citizens these systems are being set up to serve,” says Mark Briers, Programme Director for defence and security, The Alan Turing Institute. “Today numerous approaches to digital identity are supported by complex ecosystems of data stores, networks and interfaces with services. Data science techniques are creating strong opportunities to underpin the trust assumptions required of governments, service providers, and the many businesses and organisations that rely on these systems.”

According to the World Bank Group’s global data set, 161 of the 175 countries  known to have a national identity programme have a digital element. Working with the International Advisory Board, the Turing’s four-year project can elevate a robust appreciation for the requirements of trustworthy identity systems, alongside the technologies and practices available to meet driving aspirations. Their contribution brings perspectives from lower income countries and developed economies and shared experience that includes direct involvement in:

  • The World Bank Group’s global ID4D initiative working to promote inclusive and trusted identity systems by addressing the estimated gap of one billion people without any form of legal identity and improving design to advance development outcomes and growth of the digital economy
  • Aadhaar, the world’s largest national digital identity programme that has enrolled more than 1.26 billion residents
  • ID4Africa, a humanitarian organisation that accompanies African nations on their journey to develop robust and responsible identity ecosystems
  • The European Union’s eID regulations and strategy driving development across its 27 nation states

The Board will be chaired by Dr Joseph Atick, Executive Chairman of ID4Africa, who emphasises the increasing impact digital identity is having on modern society: “Today, COVID-19 has both highlighted and accelerated the role of digital identity in extending social safety nets and managing economies as populations and businesses alike adapt and permanently move interactions and commerce online. Digital advances in identity, particularly biometric technologies, have become essential to the functioning of a healthy society.”

“By building the next generation of identity systems to be inclusive, trusted, and digitally enabled, countries can build safer and fairer societies where all people can more easily and securely access services face-to-face and online, and take advantage of new opportunities in the digital economy,” says Vyjayanti Desai, Practice Manager, Identification for Development (ID4D) at World Bank Group. “I look forward to being part of this important initiative to make cutting edge privacy- and security-by-design features for identity systems relevant and available to all countries.”

The Turing project is committed to collating a multi-disciplined effort to enrich understanding of evolving threats and risks to identity systems, including the complex interplay of socio-economic and technical considerations within developing countries. It also builds on a significant body of existing research to bring forward promising advances in data science and privacy enhancing technologies of value in all economic settings. The ambition is to produce a definitive set of tested and accessible tools, best practice guidance, and design references based on six key criteria for assessing the impact on trust in national identity programmes: security, privacy, ethics, resilience, robustness, and reliability.

The foundation of this International Advisory Board is supported by the publication of a report from the project entitled: Trustworthy Digital Infrastructure for Digital Identity Systems: The Global Imperative . This report acknowledges that digital transformations, including in how people are legally recognised are already redefining opportunity around the world. A new Interest Group: Trustworthy Digital Identity  has also been created to facilitate engagement across the community of interest.

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence.

The Institute is named in honour of Alan Turing, whose pioneering work in theoretical and applied mathematics, engineering and computing is considered to have laid the foundations for modern-day data science and artificial intelligence. The Institute’s goals are to undertake world-class research in data science and artificial intelligence, apply its research to real-world problems, drive economic impact and societal good, lead the training of a new generation of scientists, and shape the public conversation around data and algorithms.

Biographies: Inaugural Advisory Board members

Dr. Joseph Atick, Chairman & Co-founder ID4Africa; Founder & Chairman of Identity Counsel International (ICI).

With 30 years of domain expertise in the field of identity and biometrics, Dr. Joseph Atick is recognised as a founding father of the digital identity community. Formerly head of the Computational Neuroscience Library at Rockefeller University, Joseph’s research areas led to the discovery of key algorithms for pattern recognition that led to the foundation of the biometric industry and face recognition technology. He has since dedicated his career to bringing identity to the social and economic development agenda and currently chairs the ID4Africa Movement (, which he established in 2014 and now represents the interests of identity stakeholders in 48 African countries. He also co-founded the International Biometrics & Identity Association; served as Executive Chairman of Identity Council International, which provided strategic counsel to governments, international organizations and enterprises, and established a company that he led through several mergers to become a part of the global identity solutions provider IDEMIA.

Dr. Michiel Van Der Veen, Director of Innovation & Development, National Office for Identity Data, Netherlands

Dr. Michiel van der Veen is Director Innovation & Development at the National Office for Identity Data of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations in the Netherlands. He has been a leader within the field of biometrics, and the delivery of large-scale identification projects for governments since 2008. He began his career with Philips Electronics, where he held several technical and leadership positions, and went on to establish priv-ID BV, a spin-off company of Philips Electronics developing emerging privacy-by-design technologies for biometric verification. He led the new company through a successful merger with Norway-based GenKey AS, where he also served as Chief Executive Officer and became particularly active advancing identification and biometric solutions for governments in developing countries. Michiel is a member of the Technical Expert Group of the Identification for Development (ID4D) program at the World Bank.

Vyjayanti Desai, Practice Manager, Identification for Development (ID4D) and G2Px at World Bank Group

Vyjayanti Desai is the Practice Manager of World Bank’s Identification for Development (ID4D) and Digitizing Government to Person Payments (G2Px) initiative, two global, multi-sectoral initiatives. These initiatives support progress towards trusted and inclusive identification systems and digitization of G2P programs with broader goals of financial and social inclusion, women’s empowerment and greater individual agency. These initiatives support clients with advice and financing in over 35 countries, advances thought leadership on the topics of digital identity and G2P and accelerates global public goods together with other partners. Vyjayanti joined the World Bank Group (WBG) in 2000 and has worked on a range of private and financial sector development programs across both the World Bank and IFC advisory within several regions — Africa, East Asia and South Asia. The programs she has led, working with client countries, has spanned topics of small and medium enterprise development (SME), competitiveness and innovation, digital development, investment climate policy and regulatory reforms, and access to finance. Within the WBG, she has led and shaped many multi-disciplinary and institution-wide programs, actively working to develop a unified agenda and designing integrated multi-sectoral solutions to these pressing development challenges. Prior to joining the World Bank Group, Vyjayanti worked at Deloitte Emerging Markets, where she provided consulting services to clients on private and financial sector development.

Dr. Pramod Varma, Chief Architect Aadhaar, India Stack, CTO EkStep Foundation.

Dr. Pramod Varma is the Chief Architect of Aadhaar, India’s digital identity program that has enrolled more than 1.26 billion residents. Pramod advises several digital public infrastructure initiatives in India, including: National Payment Corporation (NPCI), Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), National Health Authority (NHA), and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) among others. He is also the architect of various population-scale solutions in India, including eSign, Digital Locker, and Unified Payment Interface (UPI), and works to drive tech for good initiatives as co-founder of the non-profit organisation behind open-source protocol specifications for hyperlocal commerce; and as CTO of EkStep, a platform providing learning opportunities to 200 million children in India. Pramod is passionate about technology, science, society, and teaching, driven by his enthusiasm for advancing Internet-scale distributed architectures and intelligent systems for public good.

Next steps outlined for UK’s use of digital identity – Digital Identity Strategy Board develops new principles to boost secure use of digital identity 

Image of hands using a computer and mobile phone

1st Sept 2020: Consumer rights around digital identity to be strengthened to enable wider use across the country

Reports show the digital identity market could add 3 per cent to UK GDP by 2030.

Leaders in the tech, business and civil society sectors have welcomed the government’s plans to enable the use of digital identity across the UK, with plans to update existing laws and a new set of guiding principles for policy development.

The proposals come after it was revealed 2.6 million people made a claim for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme online since its launch on 13 May 2020, with 1.4 million having no prior digital identity credentials and needing to pass through HMRC’s identity verification service.

Increasingly people are required to prove their identity to access services, whether it is to buy age-restricted items on and offline or make it easier to register at a new GP surgery.

Now, following a call for evidence published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport alongside the Cabinet Office, the government plans to update existing laws on identity checking to enable digital identity to be used as widely as possible.

It will consult on developing legislation for consumer protection relating to digital identity, specific rights for individuals, an ability to seek redress if something goes wrong, and set out where the responsibility for oversight should lie. It will also consult on the appropriate privacy and technical standards for administering and processing secure digital identities.

Figures from 2019 show a 32 per cent rise in identity fraud over five years, with 223,163 cases recorded in that year alone – up 18 per cent on the previous year.

A new government Digital Identity Strategy Board has also developed six principles to strengthen digital identity delivery and policy in the UK.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:

Digital technology is helping us through the pandemic and continues to improve the way we live, work and access vital services.

We want to make it easier for people to prove their identity securely online so transactions can become even quicker – it has the potential to add billions to our economy.

Today I’ve set out further detail on our proposals and I look forward to working with partners in the private sector to unlock the UK’s digital identity economy.

Cabinet Office Minister, Julia Lopez, said:

It is clear that there is a need and an expectation for the government to make it easier for people to use digital identities quickly, safely and securely and we are committed to enabling this.

We want to ensure there is transparency for people when they create and use digital identities so that they are always in control of who has access to their data and for what purpose.

We have already started to explore how we can work across government to achieve our ambitions and through the Document Checking Service pilot, how we can also work with the private sector to harness the value to our users across the UK’s digital economy, and I am committed to continuing this drive going forward.

Hannah Gurga, Managing Director of Digital Technology & Cyber at UK Finance, said:

Removing the barriers to creating secure digital identities, combined with the necessary safeguards, will make it easier for people to use online services while at the same time helping to prevent criminal activity such as money laundering and terrorism. Developing a legal framework for digital identity is therefore an important next step and we look forward to working with the Government as it develops its proposals.

Felicity Burch, Director of Innovation, CBI, said:

This publication is an important step towards creating a robust digital identity system in the UK. A framework based on privacy, transparency and interoperability will bring many benefits to individuals and firms, providing greater access to online services and increasing productivity.

The CBI supports the government’s ambitions to create a digital ID framework that can help protect consumers and unlock economic growth, and looks forward to collaborating with DCMS and the Cabinet Office to make this a reality.

The six principles are:

  1. Privacy – When personal data is accessed people will have confidence that there are measures in place to ensure their confidentiality and privacy; for instance, a supermarket checking a shopper’s age, a lawyer overseeing the sale of a house or someone applying to take out a loan.
  2. Transparency – When an individual’s identity data is accessed when using digital identity products they must be able to understand by who, why and when; for example, being able to see how your bank uses your data through digital identity solutions.
  3. Inclusivity – People who want or need a digital identity should be able to obtain one; for example, not having documentation such as a passport or driving licence should not be a barrier to not having a digital identity.
  4. Interoperability – Setting technical and operating standards for use across the UK’s economy to enable international and domestic interoperability.
  5. Proportionality – User needs and other considerations such as privacy and security will be balanced so digital identity can be used with confidence across the economy.
  6. Good governance – Digital identity standards will be linked to government policy and law. Any future regulation will be clear, coherent and align with the government’s wider strategic approach to digital regulation. For example, firms verifying your identity will need to comply with laws around how they access and store data.

The government is also exploring how secure checks could be made against government data. This month the Document Checking Service Pilot scheme launched by the Government to give people easier and safer access to digital services which require identity checks, such as online mortgage applications, financial services and recruitment onboarding.

The new service will also help organisations tackle fraud and test if there is a market for this type of digital identity checking service.

The pilot, which will run for approximately a year, will deliver significant time savings for people who previously went through in-person processes to verify their identities. It will also provide financial savings for organisations who can move their identity proofing processes online.

The Government response can be found here.

The Government Digital Service built the Document Checking Service to allow Identity Providers for GOV.UK Verify to check that passport and driving licence records are valid when verifying a user’s identity.

In this pilot, up to eleven private sector organisations will be allowed to verify the validity of passport data only.

No organisation will be given access to government-held data – participating organisations will simply receive a yes, no or error message as to whether the document was validly issued, and no personal data not already provided by the individual would be used or shared.

The Government Digital Service are in discussion with the selected organisations and finalising agreements before the onboarding process can commence.

Sedicii Innovations and Agenda Resource Management are confirmed pilot participants who will use the checks as part of financial services onboarding .

The full list of pilot participants will be available in due course.

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