Britain in slow lane on secure ID for citizens

Britain has been left in the slow lane as other countries have powered ahead with developing secure ID technology, says the Social Market Foundation. Yet allowing British people to have a more secure, digital proof of identity would reduce online crime and save money, it argues. 

A continued reliance on paper documents and the lack of secure online ID is partly blamed for a boom in identity fraud, which increased by 68% between 2010 and 2016. If current trends continue, it is predicted there will have been 1.5m fraud cases in the UK between 2010 and 2020, its report said.

Meanwhile, paper passports and driving licences should be replaced by a digital document that can be stored on a smartphone, says the think-tank.

The Social Market Foundation suggested that government's GOV.UKVerify programme, which has created a secure online identity check, could be developed to allow people to dispense with paper passports, driving licences and birth certificates.

“Around the world, forward-looking countries are embracing the opportunities offered by digital identity authentication and verification,” the report said. Estonia's e-ID enables digital signatures, internet voting and public service access, and the UAE now has a smartphone passport app.

“We envision a future in which individuals could choose to no longer hold a passport, driving licence and birth certificate as individual verifiers. Instead, they could opt for all these forms of documentation to sit under one register of entitlement.

“This could bring about significant cost savings for government, not least from reduced postage and printing costs associated with different types of physical identification.”

The think-tank said the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency spent about £40m on printing and postage in 2016-17 - close to 17% of total operating costs.

The design for the new UK passport is also out for tender as part of a £490m government contract.

Entitled ‘A Verifiable Success - The future of identity in the UK’, the report pointed out that people are often required to provide paper bills as proof of address - yet companies are pushing them to adopt paperless billing.

“While electronic boarding passes are now common place at airports, physical passports are still required for international travel,” it added.

However, the think-tank acknowledged: “Physical documentation will probably be required for some time, given varying degrees of digital uptake across the globe, though the long-term picture undoubtedly looks paperless.”