By Ian Burrell | The Telegraph
The Government will announce details this month of a controversial national identity scheme which will allow people to use their mobile phones and social media profiles as official identification documents for accessing public services.
People wishing to apply for services ranging from tax credits to fishing licences and passports will be asked to choose from a list of familiar online log-ins, including those they already use on social media sites, banks, and large retailers such as supermarkets, to prove their identity.
Once they have logged in correctly by computer or mobile phone, the site will send a message to the government agency authenticating that user’s identity.
The Cabinet Office is understood to have held discussions with the Post Office, high street banks, mobile phone companies and technology giants ranging from Facebook and Microsoft to Google, PayPal and BT.
Ministers are anxious that the identity programme is not denounced as a “Big Brother” national ID card by the back door, which is why data will not be kept centrally by any government department. Indeed, it is hoped the Identity Assurance Programme, which is being led by the Cabinet Office, will mean the end to any prospect of a physical national ID card being introduced in the UK.
The identification systems used by the private companies have been subjected to security testing before being awarded their “Identity Provider” (IDP) kitemark, meaning that they have made the list of between five and 20 approved organisations that will be announced on 22 October.
The public will be able to use their log-ins from a set list of “trusted” private organisations to access Government services, which are being grouped together on a single website called Gov.uk, which will be accessible by mobile.
A cross-section of social media companies, high street banks, mobile phone businesses and major retailers has been chosen in order to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible.
The system will be trialled when the Department of Work & Pensions starts the early roll out of the Universal Credit scheme, a radical overhaul of the benefits system, in April.
Users who access the Government’s online one-stop-shop of public services will be asked to identify themselves by choosing one organisation from a selection of logos. (This feature is called a “Nascar screen”, in reference to the logo-filled livery of the famous American racing cars.)
Major web sites are able to recognise individuals by their patterns of use, the device they are accessing from and its location. Facebook, for example, asks users who sign on from an unusual location to take a series of security questions including identifying friends in photographs.
Privacy campaigners are not wholly convinced by the programme. “Although this is a fine scheme in principle and is backed by ministers the danger is that it could be side-lined and used as a fig leaf by the data-hungry government departments,” said Guy Herbert, general secretary of No2ID, which has been consulted by the Cabinet Office.
Details of the “identity assurance” scheme are being finalised amid growing concerns over identity theft and other forms of cybercrime. Foreign Secretary William Hague and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who is at the head of the Identity Assurance Programme, will today (Thurs) meet international experts at the Budapest Conference on Cyberspace. Mr Maude will give a keynote speech.
The Cabinet Office believes its new identity model will “prevent ‘login fatigue’ [from] having too many usernames and passwords” and save public money by increasing trust in online services. The system is likely to be adopted by local authorities nationwide. The Government hopes the identity system will form the basis of a universally-recognised online authentication process for commercial transactions on the Internet, boosting the economy and strengthening Britain’s position as a leader in e-commerce.
In recent weeks, the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service has backed a UK working group of the Open Identity Exchange, which was set up in America to bring organisations including Google, AOL, PayPal and Experian together to find a simple method of online verification that doesn’t require multiple passwords.
Members of the Cabinet Office team travelled to the White House in May to exchange ideas with American counterparts working on the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). The heads of the British and American identity assurance programmes will debate the subject next week in London at the RSA cyber security conference.