As we begin building back better from the devastating COVID pandemic, I believe we must put the development of a distributed digital ID firmly at the heart of our recovery. A distributed digital ID has so many social and economic benefits. If we, collectively, in public/private collaboration, get this right, it will be such a boon for Britain.
After some ‘unfortunate’ false starts it certainly seems that digital ID is developing with some increase of pace from the UK Government and today (20 May 2021) in the House of Lords I have asked about the Government’s plans for a distributed digital identification protocol.
There’s nothing unlucky about 13, getting digital ID sorted could deliver 13% of otherwise unrealised GDP for the UK. An effective and trusted digital ID could also enable and empower individuals currently or potentially excluded from exercising citizen rights and basic financial services. In 2011, at our last census, 17% of UK citizens had no passport, digital ID could effortlessly get past this problem. Digital ID: no passport, no problem.
I am not alone in seeing the benefits. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in a recent report noted that digital identity would be a great benefit to the greater adoption of Open Finance. The Kalifa Review of U.K. Fintech, published its report in February 2021, following a government commissioned independent review into the U.K. fintech sector, highlighted the need for a coalition on Digital ID to avoid misunderstanding and confusion about competing standards, a real risk right now.
I have been pushing for greater urgency on this issue for some time and put forward several amendments to the recent Financial Services Bill. My proposed amendment on digital ID would have required the Secretary of State, within six months of the passage of the bill to publish the government’s plans for the development and deployment of a distributed digital identification (“Digital ID”) for individuals and corporate entities in the financial services sector.
Further, the amendment stated that such ID must be scalable, flexible, and inclusive, capable of deployment and take-up across the entire UK, and capable of adapting to change – not least in new technologies such as quantum computing. By inclusive I mean not just inclusion concerning protected characteristics as set out in equality legislation, but wider – a guarantee that a digital ID will enable and empower everyone across the piece.
The twelve guiding principles of self-sovereign identity [SSI] help to explain how a distributed digital ID could work in all our interests; secure, decentralised, transparent, embedding equity and inclusion and protecting our privacy. A practical, functional solution. And in terms of effective operation, just one word: interoperability. Worth restating though, as it is so critical to success: interoperability, interoperability, interoperability.
Finally, the amendment required the Secretary of State to undertake a public engagement campaign around digital IDs to raise awareness and participation in the process. Why should any of us feel anything other than antipathy and scepticism if something is put forward which we have had nothing to do with, heard anything about or been able to influence, interrogate or even see close up?
We must all be part of this: the discussion, the journey, the design, and the deployment. A public debate, engaging, enquiring, critiquing. Just as our personal data, through an effectively delivered digital ID would have our ID in our hands, so it is with the opportunity itself. Distributed digital ID, it’s not an inevitability. Thankfully, at last, it’s currently somewhat more than just a distant dream and I look forward to hearing from the Minister today on what more can be done to accelerate the process.
Lord Chris Holmes is Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Groups on: FinTech, AI, Block Chain and 4IR. He is a member of the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee and has been a member of Select Committees on: Digital Skills, Social Mobility, Financial Inclusion, AI, Intergenerational Fairness and, last year, Democracy and Digital Technologies. He also authored a report on ‘Distributed Ledger Technology for public good: leadership, collaboration, innovation.’