An Online ID card will be launched in the UK next month. The scheme is initially targetted for transaction with government agencies such as the tax office and the DVLA.
The Government was a bit too quick to deny it was bringing in ID cards by the back door after it revealed plans to offer everyone a virtual ID. Government aides claimed in a rather circular argument that rather than bringing in ID cards by a
different method the scheme would make any attempt to reintroduce a compulsory document less likely:
This removes once and for all the need for an identity card because it will be possible to prove your identity securely without one.
More than half a million people are expected to sign up to use the Verify project within a year. Under the programme, users will choose one of five private providers -- including Experian and the Post Office -- to complete an online
This will give them a username and password, as well as a code sent to their mobile phone, which will give them access to government services.
Driving licences and some self-assessment tax returns will be among the first services to be offered as part of the scheme next month, with tax credits and benefits records expected to follow in March.
Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, which has been involved in the scheme's development, said:
It has to ensure that this is a scheme that the public can have full confidence in. They must make themselves very clear about how it will work, including details of what safeguards are in place to ensure that the private companies being
used to verify a users identity won't wrongly gain access to any information.'
Digital ID was discussed by the Commons Science and Technology Committee on 13th November 2018.
Carol Monaghan Committee Member: At the moment, platforms such as Facebook require age verification, but that simply means entering a date of birth, and children can change that. If you are planning to extend that, or look at how it
might apply to other social media, how confident are you that the age verification processes would be robust enough to cope?
Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries: At the moment, I do not think that we would be, but age verification tools and techniques are developing at pace, and we keep abreast of developments. At the moment , we
think we have a robust means by which to verify people's age at 18; the challenge is to develop tools that can verify people's age at a younger age, such as 13. Those techniques are not robust enough yet, but a lot of technological research is
going on, and I am reasonably confident that, over the next few years, there will be robust means by which to identify age at younger than 18.
Stephen Metcalfe Committee Member: My question is on the same point about how we can create a verification system that you cannot just get around by putting in a fake date of birth. I assume that the verification for 18 - plus is based
around some sort of credit card, or some sort of bank card. The issue there is that, potentially, someone could borrow another person's card, because it does not require secret information--it requires just the entering of the 16-digit number, or
something. But on the younger ages, given that we are talking about digital life and digital literacy, do you think that the time has come to talk about having a digital verified ID that young people get and which you cannot fiddle with--a bit
like an online ID card, or digital passport? I know that that idea has been around a little while.
Margot James: It has. I do think that the time has come when that is required, but there are considerable hoops to go through before we can arrive at a system of digital identity, including someone's age, that is acknowledged, respected
and entered into by the vast majority of people. As you probably know, the Government have committed in prior years to the Verify system, which we think has got as far as it can go, which is not far enough. We have a team of excellent policy
officials in the DCMS looking afresh at other techniques of digital identity. It is a live issue and there have been many attempts at it; there is frustration, and not everybody would agree with what I have said. But you asked my view, and that
is it--and the Department is focusing a lot of energy on that area of research.
Chair: Can you imagine that your legislation, when it comes, could include the concept, to which Stephen referred, of a digital identity for children?
Margot James: That is a long way off--or it is not next year, and probably not the year after, given how much consultation it would require. The new work has only just started, so it is not a short-term solution, and I do not expect to see
it as part of our White Paper that we publish this winter. That does not mean to say that we do not think that it is important; we are working towards getting a system that we think could have public support.
To go slightly beyond the terms of your inquiry, with regard to the potential for delivering a proper digital relationship between citizen and G overnment through delivery of public services, a digital identity system will be important. We feel
that public service delivery has a huge amount to gain from the digital solution.
Bill Grant Committee Member:: I am pleased to note that the Government are addressing issues that have been with us for nearly a decade--the dark side of social media and the risk to children, not least the risk that we all experience as
parliamentarians. Can you offer any reason why it has taken so long for Government to begin that process? Would you be minded to accelerate the process to address the belated start?
Margot James: One reason is that progress has been made by working with technology companies. The Home Office has had considerable success in working with technology companies to eradicate terrorist content online. To a lesser but still
significant extent, progress has also been made on a voluntary basis with the reduction in child abuse images and child sexual exploitation. I said "significant , " but this is a Home Office area--I am working closely with the Home
Office, because the White Paper is being developed in concert with it--and it is clear that it does not feel that anything like enough is being done through voluntary measures.
Chair: Do you feel that?
Margot James: Yes, I do. A lot of the highly dangerous material has gone under the radar in the dark web, but too much material is still available, apparently, on various platforms, and it takes them too long to remove it.
Chair: Ultimately, the voluntary approach is not working adequately.
Margot James: Exactly--that is our view now. I was trying to address the hon. Member's question about why it had taken a long time. Partly it is that technology changes very fast , but, partly, it is because voluntary engagement was
delivering, but it has impressed itself on us in the last 12 months that it is not delivering fast enough or adequately. We have not even talked about the vast range of other harms, some of which are illegal and some legal but harmful, and some
in the grey area in between, where decidedly inadequate progress has been made as a result of the many instances of voluntary engagement, not just between the Government and the technology sector but between charitable organisations and
non-governmental organisations, including the police.
Bill Grant: It was envisaged earlier that there would be some sort of regulator or ombudsman, but , over and above that , Martha Lane Fox's think - tank proposed the establishment of an office for responsible technology, which would be
overarching, in whatever form the regulation comes. Would you be minded to take that on board?
Margot James: That is one proposal that we will certainly look at, yes. Martha Lane Fox does a lot of very good work in this area, has many years' experience of it, and runs a very good organisation in the "tech for good"
environment, so her proposals are well worth consideration. That is one reason why I was unable to give a specific answer earlier, because there are good ideas, and they all need proper evaluation. When the White Paper is published, we will
engage with you and any other interested party , and invite other organisations to contribute to our thinking, prior to the final legislation being put before Parliament and firming up the non-legislative measures, which are crucial. We all know
that legislation does not solve every ill, and it is crucial that we continue the very good work being done by many internet companies to improve the overall environment.