Digital ID: What’s the current state-of-play in the UK?

Catch-up with all of the discussion and insights from techUK's recent event 'Digital ID: What's the current state of play in the UK' from the #DigitalID2021 event series.

On 22 July, as part of the #DigitalID2021 event series, techUK hosted an insightful discussion exploring the current state-of-play for digital identity in the UK and how to build public trust in digital identity technologies. The panel also examined how the UK’s progress on digital ID compares with international counterparts and set out their top priorities to support the digital identity market and facilitate wider adoption.

The panel included:

You can watch the full webinar here or read our summary of the key insights below:

The UK’s progress on digital identity

Opening the session, the panel discussed progress around digital identity since the start of the pandemic.

Julie Dawson raised a number of developments that indicate steps in the right direction. Before the pandemic over 3.5m EU citizens proved their settled status via the EU Settlement Scheme, whilst the JMLSG and Land Registry have both since explicitly recognised digital identity, with digital right to work checks and a Home Office sandbox on age verification technologies in alcohol sales also introduced since March last year. She also lauded the creation of the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum as a great example of joining up across government departments, such as on the topic of age assurance.

Lord Tim Clement-Jones on the other hand noted that the pace of change has remained slow. He said that the UK government needs to take concrete action and should focus on opening up government data to third party providers. He also made the point that the u-turn on the Digital Economy Act Part 3 has not as yet been rectified and so the manifesto pledge to protect children online has still to be fulfilled. Julie pointed out that legislative change in terms of the Mandatory Licensing Conditions are still needed, to enable a person to prove their age to purchase alcohol without solely requiring a physical document with a physical hologram.

Collaboration across industry around digital identities was also highlighted by Julie, drawing upon the example of the Good Health Pass Collaborative which has emerged since the start of the pandemic. The Collaborative has brought together a variety of stakeholders and over 130 companies to work on an interoperable digital identity solution to facilitate international travel post-COVID to operate at scale once more.


Examining the Government alpha Trust Framework and latest consultation

Moving on to look at the government’s alpha Trust Framework for digital identity, as well as the newly published consultation on digital identity and attributes, the panel explored what these documents do well and what gaps ultimately remain.

Julie Dawson and Laura Barrowcliff both saw a lot of good in the new proposals, with Laura highlighting how the priorities in the government’s approach around governance, inclusion and interoperability broadly hit on the right points. Julie also highlighted the role for vouching in the government’s framework as a positive step and emphasised the government’s recognition of the importance of parity for digital identity verification as one of the most central developments for wider adoption of the technology.

Providing a more cautious view, Lord Tim Clement-Jones said the UK risked creating a byzantine pyramid of governance on digital identity. He pointed to the huge number of bodies envisaged to have roles in the UK system and raised concerns that the UK will end up with a certification scheme that differs from anyone else’s internationally by not using existing standards or accreditation systems.

Looking forward, Julie highlighted that providers are looking for clarity on how to operate and deliver over the next 18 months before any of these documents become legislation. She also expressed the sincere hope that the progress made in terms of offering digital Right to Work checks, alongside physical ones, will continue rather than end in September 2021.

She identified two separate ‘tracks’ for public and private sector use of digital identity and raised the need for a conversation on when and how to join these up with the consumer at the heart. When considering data sources, for example, the ability of digital identity providers to access data across the Passport Office, the DVLA and other government agencies and departments is critical to support the development of digital identity solutions.

The panel was pleased to see the creation of a new government Digital Identity Strategy Board which they hoped would drive progress but raised the need for further transparency about ongoing work in this space, including a list of members, TOR and meeting minutes from these sessions.


Public trust in digital identity

One of the core topics of conversation centred upon trust in digital identity technologies and what steps can be taken to drive wider public trust in this space.

Lord Tim Clement-Jones said that there is a key role for government on standards to ensure digital identity providers are suitable and trustworthy, as well as in providing a workable and feasible proposal that inspires public confidence.

Julie highlighted how, alongside the Post Office, Yoti welcomed the soon to be published research undertaken by OIX into documents and inclusion.

Laura Barrowcliff emphasised the importance of context for public trust, putting the consumer experience at the heart of considerations. Opening up digital identity and consumer choice is one such way of improving the experience for users. Whilst much of the discussion on trust ties in with concerns around fraud, Laura highlighted how digital identity can actually help from a security and privacy perspective by embodying principles such as data minimisation and transparency. She also highlighted how data minimisation and proportionate use of digital identity data could be key for user buy-in.


Lessons from around the world

Looking to international counterparts, the panel drew attention to countries around the world which have made good progress on digital identity and key learnings from these global exemplars.

The progress on digital identity made in Singapore and Canada was mentioned by Julie Dawson, who emphasised the openness around digital identity proposals – which span the public and private sector – and the work being done to keep citizens informed and involve them in the process.

Julie also raised the example of the EU, which is accelerating its work on digital identity with an approach that also spans the public and private sector and is looking at key issues such as data sources whilst focusing on the consumer. Lord Tim Clement-Jones emphasised the importance of monitoring Europe’s progress in this area and the need for the UK government to consider how its own approach will be interoperable internationally.

Panellists discussed the role digital identities have played in Estonia where 99% of citizens hold digital ID and public trust in digital identities is the norm. However, they recognised key differences between the UK and Estonia. In the UK, digital identity solutions are developing in the context of widespread use of physical identification documents, whereas digital identities were the starting point in Estonia.

Beyond the EU, Laura said that GBG has a digital identity solution in Australia where the market for reusable identities is accelerating rapidly. She highlighted that working with private sector companies who have the necessary infrastructure and capabilities in place is critical to drive adoption.


Priorities for digital identity

Drawing the discussion to a close, each of the panellists were asked for their top priority to support public trust and the growth of the digital identity market in the UK.

Transparency was identified as Julie Dawson’s top priority, particularly around what discussions are happening within and across government departments and on the work of the Strategy Board.

Lord Tim-Clement Jones highlighted data and trustworthy data-sharing as key. He said he hopes to see the formation of data foundations and trusts of publicly held information that is properly curated to be used or shared on the basis of set standards and rules, which should spill over into the digital identity arena.

Laura Barrowcliff said simplicity is most important, keeping things simple for those working in the ecosystem as well as for consumers, with those consumers at the heart of all decision-making processes.


Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Head of Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID, techUK

Katherine joined techUK in May 2018 and currently leads the Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID programme. 

Prior to techUK, Katherine worked as a Policy Advisor at the Government Digital Service (GDS) supporting the digital transformation of UK Government.

Whilst working at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Katherine led AMRC’s policy work on patient data, consent and opt-out.    

Katherine has a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham.

[email protected]
020 7331 2019

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Jake Wall

Jake Wall

Policy Manager, Skills and Future of Work, techUK

Jake has been the Policy Manager for Skills and Future of Work since May 2022, supporting techUK's work to empower the UK to skill, attract and retain the brightest global talent, and prepare for the digital transformations of the future workplace.

Previously, Jake was the Programme Assistant for Policy. He joined techUK in March 2019 and has also worked across the EU Exit, International Trade, and Cloud, Data Analytics and AI programmes.

[email protected]

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