Government seeks regulator for electronic IDs

The government is asking for opinions on which public body would be best placed to regulate providers of secure electronic identity credentials. The consultation, announced yesterday, opens as uncertainty surrounds the appointment of a new information commissioner, who is due to take office in the autumn. 

Creating a governance regime is the proposed next step in the government’s plans for digital credentials to replace paper document checks when identities need to be verified. The consultation document stresses conveyancing as one sector that will benefit. ‘The current home buying process can be delayed due to the need to prove identity multiple times, potentially to different standards. It also requires individuals to pay fees to have documents like a passport officially certified,’ the document states. 

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Digital identities will be provided through an ecosystem of private services with powers to check details against official databases such as passport and driving licence records. The providers will be accredited and monitored by a regulatory body with powers set out in legislation. ‘Placing these functions within an existing regulator ensures the regulator has the experience, status and powers to give sufficient oversight and offers economies of scale by reducing costs associated with setting up a brand new stand-alone regulator,’ the document proposes.

It stresses that no decision has yet been taken on which regulator should house the ‘governing body for digital identity’. A strong candidate is the Information Commissioner’s Office. A new commissioner is expected to take up his or her post at the start of November when the current incumbent Elizabeth Denham completes her term. However a hearing of the parliamentary committee responsible for overseeing the appointment was scheduled for 8 July but has been pushed back twice due to delays by the government in naming a candidate. 

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This consultation also seeks views on:

  • How to allow ID providers to make digital checks against authoritative government-held data, and
  • How to establish the legal validity of digital identities. The document admits that, despite the Law Commission’s confirmation that digital signatures are valid for most purposes, ‘corporate aversion’ still exists. To tackle this the government plans to introduce a statutory presumption affirming that digital identities and digital attributes can be as valid as physical forms of identification or traditional identity documents.

Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said the plans ‘will ensure people can trust the app in their pocket as much as their passport when proving their identity’.

The consultation closes on 13 September.



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