Digital identity debate resurfaces following Windrush scandal

In the wake of the Home Secretary’s resignation over the Windrush scandal, the question of national, digital, ID cards has been brought into national conversation.

Indeed, Jesper Frederiksen – head of EMEA at identity management company Okta – has suggested the UK government needs to adopt digital identities to avoid repeating the same mistakes with EU citizens post-Brexit.

>See also: The evolution of identity: trust, inclusivity, biometrics and beyond

“There is a danger that if the government does not re-visit the national ID policy, it could have another Windrush scenario on its hands, but this time with EU citizens falling victim following Brexit,” said Frederiksen. “This fiasco has highlighted the issue of the archaic methods the UK government currently use to record and identify people. It should instead be capitalising on technology to enable more efficient services through the form of digital identities.”

Global movement

The idea of digital documentation is nothing new. Estonia, for example, has already begun issuing a digital chip and pin e-card, which is designed to verify and authenticate a person’s identity.

‘The country’s e-Identity programme, allows its citizens to safely identify themselves and use e-services from a laptop, phone or anywhere with connectivity,’ explained Frederiksen.

>See also: Blockchain: Helping secure digital identities

Estonia is not alone, and India has also embraced the idea of a digital identity. It has introduced a scheme called Aahaar to its citizens, which issues them with a unique 12 digit identity number. This is based on their biometric and demographic data, which helps when trying to certify fuel subsidies and food ration.

It is evident that other countries around the world – like Estonia and India – have moved past the form of physical documentation to digital identities. The UK should follow this example, or end up getting left behind, with an increased likelihood of another Windrush scandal.

“Overhauling an identity system which has long been the foundation in the UK will no doubt be a challenge, especially when it comes to securing biometric data,” said Frederiksen. “But in the path towards an easier transition post-Brexit, the UK government must be quick to adapt a more streamlined technology solution to identity and protect its citizens.”

>See also: UK leads Europe as one of world’s “digital elite” economies

Path of resistance

ID cards are common throughout Europe, and as seen above, in the rest of the world. However, the notion of ID cards has been politically contentious in the UK, writes Harvey Redgrave – senior policy fellow at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and managing director of Crest Advisory – for iNews.

“Most of the arguments against relate to the risks to our privacy arising from a national identity database: that it could be used by the state either now or in the future to profile the activities and behaviour of individual citizens, and that it could be compromised on an industrial scale by hackers with malicious or criminal intent.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...