Government to create ‘trust framework’ of standards for digital identities

Minister says input will be welcomed from all stakeholders

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The government is to create a “trust framework” for digital-identity products, setting out rules and standards for use across the industry.

In June 2019, the Cabinet Office and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport jointly established the Digital Identity Unit. The following month the departments launched a public consultation that reportedly found that “the majority of respondents want the government to take a lead in setting the rules for digital identity”.

In a speech delivered at the Identity Week event taking place virtually this week, digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said that “over the past few months we have been working closely with experts throughout the private sector, academia and civil society” to help inform such rules. 

“We need agreed standards, ways of working, and a way to check they are being adhered to,” he added. “We will do this by establishing a trust framework of standards, rules, assurance and governance for the use of digital identity, in one place, that different organisations using or consuming digital identity can follow. Such a framework would also enable people to reuse their digital identity to access a range of products and services.

“This trust framework will help organisations check identities and share attributes in a trusted and consistent way enabling interoperability, maintaining high levels of privacy, and increasing public confidence.”

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Warman claimed that ensuring the creation of the framework is a collaborative process is as important as the content of the guidance.

“I have held a number of meetings with experts across the digital identity ecosystem — from supportive providers to hopeful private sector organisations to sceptical lobbyists,” he added. “We are engaging openly with players across the ecosystem to hear your ideas — and your concerns — and incorporate them into our approach.”

He pledged that the framework “will not restrict innovation but, instead, will enable the implementation of safe and secure solutions that work for business and society alike”.

The government will also work with “international partners… exploring the ways in which we can make direct links to other markets and nations to establish and build international recognition and interoperability”.

The framework will be made public in alpha mode in early 2021, according to the digital minister. 

“Publishing the framework as an alpha gives us a unique opportunity to test digital identity standards in practice, highlighting their strengths, their challenges and together, identifying areas for improvement and agreement,” he said. “With your input into the alpha, we can together truly enable a successful digital identity ecosystem in the UK that works for everyone.”

Government will also support the sector by calling on its own data to help providers verify people’s identity. Such work is already taking place via ongoing trials, run by the Government Digital Service, of a Document-Checking Service in which people can use their passport to securely access goods and services offered by a handful of private-sector firms. 

Up to 11 firms will be able to take part in the year-long scheme and Warman claimed six are already doing so, or will be shortly. Some 500 checks have taken place since the trial programme was unveiled three months ago.

“No organisation has been given direct access to government-held data — instead, they receive a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response as to whether their customers’ passport is valid,” Warman said. “This helps to protect people’s privacy while clamping down on opportunities for identity theft and fraud.”

He added: “This is an important step in testing industry demand for these kinds of services. It also shows how the government can work with industry to ensure that privacy is central to policy development and delivery, and ensure trusted identity verification.”


Sam Trendall

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