UK: Digital ID plans unveiled and condemned


The UK government has announced "plans to enable the use of digital identity across the UK," stating its intention to "update existing laws and a new set of guiding principles for policy development."

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The announcement was condemned by civil liberties campaigners and digital identity advocates alike.

The former have highlighted the previous opposition of many politicians currently in government to the scrapped national identity card scheme, a string of scandals and failures involving personal data in government departments and state agencies, and the possibilities for pervasive, intrusive surveillance offered by digital identity schemes in combination with other new technologies. See: The UK's online ID plans: expensive, intrusive, unnecessary (The Guardian)

The latter, meanwhile, have denounced the government for not having a clear plan at all. A Computer Weekly report cites members of an expert panel at the TechUK event, who "found it lacked clear actions and outcomes on how to move forward with digital identity." See: Experts slam government digital ID response (Computer Weekly)

A government press release states that:

"...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."

The press release was published to accompany the government's response to a call for evidence on digital identity that was issued last year. The response initially made the bizarre claim that:

"Being able to prove identity digitally has become essential to facilitate everyday tasks such as buying food and organising our finances." (emphasis added)

The responses to that call for evidence appear to have come overwhelmingly from the private sector, in particular from many companies with a vested interest in the development of a more comprehensive digital identity scheme in the UK. Is that really necessary? As Gracie Mae Bradley argues in the piece in The Guardian cited above:

"We shouldn’t blithely accept a digital ID system as a necessary evil in the modern world. There’s a lot more at stake here than being able to buy a pint more conveniently. Why not press for the one option that is all too often overlooked: rather than massively increasing state and corporate surveillance capacity in a bid to make ID checks easier, what if we simply got rid of some of them altogether? For starters, hostile environment checks – such as making landlords and banks check people’s immigration status – could and should go."

The government response: Digital Identity: Call for Evidence Response (pdf, as updated on 8 September)

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