One thing emerged clearly at the OIX/techUK Digital Identity event on 11 February: while the private sector has been very busy pushing the agenda forward, there has been little visible progress on the Government side.
The speakers from DCMS, Hannah Rutter, and GDS, Alison McDowell, pointed to the election, the cabinet reshuffle and the upcoming budget as reasons for the delay. And although they assured us work was in train, they could give no substantive detail. A response to last July’s Call for Evidence, to which an impressive 140 private organisations contributed, will be published, but no timeline is as yet available.
It is now a full year since techUK’s White Paper, A Case for Digital Identity set out its 9 recommendations on digital ID. These steps have been universally recognized as a clear blueprint for how the UK must move forward. Yet so far none of them have been realised.
The overriding comment from those attending was: Why? Why is the UK dragging its feet on this fundamental building block of its digital economy? And what do we need to do to get things moving?
The tech sector is adamant: without a functioning market for digital ID, progress towards a digital, data-led economy in the UK will be severely hampered. Digital identity is an essential component of initiatives towards further and more secure sharing of data, such as the FCA’s open finance initiative (see Call for Input, to which techUK will be responding) and the BEIS smart data consultation. We are already falling far behind other jurisdictions and the need for a coherent direction from government is imperative.
The Economics of Identity event, held in the majestic Great Hall at the RSA did, however, showcase the strides already made by private sector organisations. We heard details of the findings of the joint OIX/techUK working groups, sparked off by techUK’s white paper and the subsequent cross-sector forum in May 2019.
Nick Mothershaw, CEO of OIX, outlined the stack system he envisaged to enable interoperability across sectors and providers. Rob Lawrence of Innovate Identity explained the outcomes of discussions on interoperability. Martin Edwards, from the Post Office, described how the inclusion working group had identified the scale of the problem, the feasible solutions and recommended next steps. Angus McFadyen, of Pinsent Masons, discussed the different options identified by the liability and trust working group, on which further papers will be forthcoming in due course.
Don Thibeau exhorted the private sector to continue its work, even in the absence of a clear governmental lead, as a healthy digital ID market in the UK is essential for the maintenance of competition and diversity in the market.
After lunch we heard of more specific private sector initiatives. Philip Graham from the NHS Foundation Trust explained the project to ensure the proper and efficient identification of health professionals, absolutely vital, he noted to prevent any further instances of harm to individuals and waste of public funds caused by ‘rogue doctors’.
Christine Leong from Accenture outlined a joint project involving Canada, Netherlands and the World Economic Forum to prove identity for international travel, which would also enable travellers to book car hire, accommodation and obtain other services through one app.
On the financial services side, where open banking and discussions on open finance have made patent the need for digital ID, Harry Weber-Brown from TISA discussed their project to enable reusable IDs across multiple sectors.
One of the highlights of the day was the video-link to Joni Brennan of DIACC (Digital Identity and Authentication Council of Canada) who explained how digital IDs are being used to boost the economy across Canada and ran through their journey to get there. Finally Liz Brandt of Ctrl-shift, Paul Wood of Aviva and Sam Rowe from Yoti engaged in a very lively debate about what needs to be done and the myriad benefits digital ID would bring to the UK.
The overall feeling of attendees was, unfortunately, frustration. This is an issue which must be addressed both at national level and within the international community. There are many lessons the UK can learn from Canada, the EU and others. Private sector demand is certainly there and the benefits to the economy and the individual have been well rehearsed. Yes, there are issues still to be resolved: how to implement a trust mark to engender public confidence; what is the best governance model and how would it fit within the existing regulatory system; what should the liability model be and how do we ensure easy and swift redress if things go wrong; how to tackle fraud. There are also significant technical issues around interoperability and the level of assurances required in different sectors.
Yet these are issues that can and must be solved and will be when public and private sectors are operating within a coherent strategy. The message: stop the delays and let’s get on with it!