The UK Digital Identity Landscape: Policy, Progress, and Challenges for Public Sector Techies

Ola Jader
January 30, 2024

Digital identity is hot on everyone's lips these days, from Whitehall corridors to local council IT hubs. But what's the nitty-gritty for us public sector tech wizards? Let's navigate the UK government's policy landscape, assess the progress so far, and identify the challenges we need to conquer to usher in a secure and streamlined digital identity future.

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Policy Pillars: Setting the Stage

The government's vision, as outlined in the "Enabling Use of Digital Identities in the UK" document, rests on two key pillars: choice and control. No Big Brother lurking here – individuals will choose when and how they use digital identities, not some faceless bureaucracy. This user-centric approach is underpinned by the Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework, a set of baseline standards for secure and accountable identity verification.

Think of DITF as your building code for digital identities. It ensures consistent quality across the ecosystem, protecting user privacy and preventing a Frankenstein's monster of incompatible systems. It's also evolving – the beta version recently expanded scope to include right-to-work, rent and criminal record checks, showcasing the government's commitment to adaptability.

Progress in Pixels: Milestones Achieved

So, is this just pie in the sky policy speak? Not quite. We've seen tangible progress:

  • NHS login: Gone are the days of juggling multiple NHS online accounts. This single sign-on system now boasts over 26 million registered users, proving the public appetite for streamlined access.

  • One Login takes this even further, allowing citizens to use a single set of credentials across a wider range of government services, including applying for an HM Armed Forces Veteran Card. This one-stop-shop approach not only eliminates login fatigue but also fosters a more holistic view of a citizen's interactions with the public sector. Individuals get to decide which services they link to their One Login account, empowering them to manage their digital identity with granularity. This personalized approach is key to building trust and encouraging widespread adoption. 

  • Tell Us Once: Sharing information once with government services is becoming a reality, reducing the frustration of repetitive form-filling. Over 50 services are now onboard, saving citizens and government resources.

  • Commercial Providers: Private sector organizations like Yoti and VerifyMe are developing digital identity solutions within the framework, fostering a competitive and innovative landscape.

Challenges That Loom: Crossing the Chasm

While the sun shines on these initial steps, there are shadows to acknowledge:

  • Awareness and adoption: Public awareness of digital identity options remains low, and some pockets of the public sector are slow to embrace the change. We need effective communication campaigns and robust onboarding strategies.
  • Inclusivity and Access: Digital exclusion can't be ignored. Ensuring equitable access for those without smartphones or digital skills is crucial, and alternative access methods like physical cards must be considered.
  • Data Governance and Trust: Privacy concerns are paramount. Building strong data governance frameworks and fostering public trust through transparency and robust accountability measures is non-negotiable.

The Call to Action: Techies to the Rescue!

As public sector techies, we have a pivotal role to play. We can:

  • Champion digital identity within our organizations: Advocate for its benefits and be early adopters, paving the way for wider acceptance.
  • Contribute to policy development: Share our expertise and concerns with government bodies to ensure policies are grounded in practical realities.
  • Build interoperable solutions: Embrace the DITF framework and develop solutions that work seamlessly across the ecosystem, avoiding siloed approaches.
  • Prioritize security and privacy: Bake robust security measures and user control mechanisms into every aspect of our digital identity projects.

The UK's digital identity journey is well underway, but it's far from over. As techies, we hold the key to unlocking its full potential. By working together, we can build a secure, convenient, and inclusive digital identity ecosystem that benefits both citizens and the public sector – a future where the only lines we'll be queuing in are virtual ones, accessing services with a tap or a click.

So, let's roll up our sleeves, fellow tech warriors, and make the UK's digital identity story a roaring success!