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UK surveillance state looms large as new Digital ID proposals are introduced

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UK’s authorities are hard at work in a bid to move as much personal identity information from the physical to the digital realm and ensure it is trusted and given a stronger legal status, claiming that this will improve security around this type of highly sensitive data.

A new government proposal is designed to establish a government body that would act as regulator making sure online authentication and identity rules are adhered to by various organizations.

Announcing the plan, the UK government said its aim is to make digital identities as trusted as traditional IDs, while the form they would take would be an app or a web service.

The proposal is talked up as being convenient – allegedly an easier way to prove one’s identity than with a physical ID, while statistics about the current trends of identity-related fraud – about 220,000 cases in 2019 – are cited to boost the argument that digital versions will, for some reason, be safer.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman mentioned these two points while presenting the proposal, and added that digital identities will also help those people “who do not have traditional forms of ID to prove who they are.”

But how is a person unable to get a traditional passport issued to their name supposed to prove their identity and receive a digital version? The proposal, which is now in the consultations phase, said a “trusted individual” like a doctor would take the role of a government service that normally verifies people’s identity.

From his statement, it seems that the plan is, at least initially, to make the use of the digital versions “opt-in” (he spoke about “people who choose to use it”). Warman also claims that moving in this direction and building trust and improved status around digital identities is something important for the economy.

But UK’s previous similar attempt, Verify – announced in 2015 – may cause some to be skeptical about the authorities’ ability to build a truly secure and functional project of this type. By 2019, Verify was dressed down by the National Audit Office as having significantly missed every target, while the Public Accounts Committee lambasted it as being “unsuccessfully implemented, badly designed, and having technical difficulties that lacked the necessary departmental and leadership buy-in.”

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