GDS boss: ‘One Login has very strong cybersecurity – and will uphold privacy’

Tom Read discusses ongoing consultation and says that new legislation will not affect commitment to data minimisation

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

The head of the Government Digital Service has stressed that the new One Login system is committed to maintaining high levels of privacy and processing only the minimum data that is required to adequately verify a user’s identity.

The government last month launched a consultation on plans to amend legislation and permit departments to more easily share a greater range of citizens’ data – including the most highly sensitive personal information.

Consultation documents outlined that the proposed updates to the 2017 Digital Economy Act – in which “identity verification” will be added as a specified “objective” for which departments would be legally allowed to share personal information – were intended to support the rollout of the new government-wide login service. 

In a newly published blog post, Tom Read, the chief executive of the Government Digital Service, which is delivering the One Login system, said there has been “a lot of interest in the consultation… so we wanted to talk a bit more about what the changes will and won’t mean”.

The GDS boss stressed that “One Login is not about replacing existing offline and face-to-face routes, which we know some users need, and neither is it about the creation of an ID card”.

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“The new legislation won’t change GOV.UK One Login’s approach to privacy,” he said. “We will continue to comply with data protection legislation and all guidance published by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The principles of ‘data minimisation’ are applied as set out in UK GDPR, so that only the smallest amount of data needed to prove a user’s identity is processed. GOV.UK One Login also has very strong cybersecurity and counter-fraud processes in place to uphold privacy, secure data and identify and rapidly respond to threats.”

The GDS boss added that “the consultation is not about One Login” specifically, and that the new digital system has been prominently referenced as it “is expected to be the first application of the new legislation [and] we talked about it in the consultation to help bring to life how the legislation could work in the real world”.

The proposed amendments will specify four named agencies that the government intends “will either hold data to verify an individual’s identity and/or help to deliver the identity verification service”.

This includes the Cabinet Office itself – the home of GDS – alongside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Disclosure and Barring Service, and the Department of Transport, chiefly through its executive agency the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

The enlarged data-sharing by these agencies that will be enabled by the changes to the legislation will help people access government services more easily – especially those that may currently experience difficulty in proving their identity, according to Read.

“One of the challenges of building a way for people to prove their identity online to access government services is that it has to work for everyone,” he said. “Around 3.5 million adults in the UK don’t have any form of photo ID according to the Electoral Commission, and there are many who don’t have a strong credit history on which they can answer questions to prove who they are.  

“The proposed changes would strengthen the legal basis for using government held data to help someone prove who they are, as well as strengthening the legal basis for sharing the result of an identity check with another government department once it has been carried out, so that the user doesn’t have to do it again. This would help more people to be able to prove their identity online, simply and efficiently.”

The consultation remains open for submissions until 11.45pm on Wednesday 1 March.

Sam Trendall

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