In an interview with The Telegraph, digital minister Margot James said citizens across the UK should adopt online identities and recommended that the UK Government should play a central role in the development of tech-based identification.
Through adopting online ID’s, James argued, people across the UK could easily access public services online.
“I think there are advantages of a universally acclaimed digital ID system, which nowhere in the world has yet,” she said. “There is a great prize to be won once the technology and the public’s confidence are reconciled.”
Public confidence could prove troublesome for James’ plans, however. Currently, the digital minister heads a team within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) aimed at exploring the “broader landscape of digital identity”.
While examples elsewhere, such as Estonia, highlight the benefits of digital identity and public services, convincing a populace bombarded with data breaches, scandals and shady dealings over the past two years could be a significant challenge in the long-term.
DIGIT spoke to Matthew Rice, Scotland director at Open Rights Group on James’ comments.
Rice believes that politicians continue to promulgate the idea that privacy is a subject people can simply forget about – which is far from the truth given recent events.
“What politicians need to get over is the idea that privacy is something to ‘get over’,” he said. “The public’s concern is growing and the data protection watchdog has received a record number of complaints since GDPR came in.
“Institutions, both private and public, that we have trusted with our privacy through ignorance or through scheming, have failed to keep that trust.”
Rice believes people will naturally be sceptical of “yet another idea” to collect and store greater amounts of data – regardless of whether this is government or industry-led.
The government must prove that it is responsible and capable of accommodating for public worries. An issue which James has failed to acknowledge, Rice added.
“There should be no surprise that people are sceptical of yet another idea to collect more data and attach it to you,” he said. “The burden is not for the public to shrug off. It is for these institutions to show they are responsible, even capable, of understanding and responding to those concerns.
“This attitude from the minister has failed to do that.”
The Government has already begun tech-focused trials in the Department for Work and Pensions, with artificial intelligence used to enhance the digital ID verification system, Verify.
This allows users to select an identity provider and register. This then enables them to use their ‘assured’ identity to access specific digital services.
The Government announced in October of this year that the service will be rolled out to the private sector sometime in 2020 – at which point it will no longer receive public funding.
The Government, James argued, must play a central role in the development of digital identity in the coming years.
“I do think Government has a very important role to play either in developing it, or commissioning it, or regulating it to make sure that users’ interests are protected,” she said.