Coalition plans to enlist private firms to speed ID authentication

By Derek du Preez
23 May 2011 View Comments
Mobile technology future

Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, revealed last week that the coalition government plans to develop a national ID database to allow for easy access to online public services.

It is not surprising that this database has been compared to the failed Labour ID card scheme and database, which was scrapped last year, but it seems that the coalition's plans are different in scope and implementation.

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"It's a bit different to carrying around an ID card at all times and having to show a policemen whenever he asks for it," said Graham Titterington, analyst for Ovum.

"The difference is that it is just being used for identity assurance for public services online, and the government isn't planning to create a whole new database. It is going to piggy back on existing private-sector databases," he added.

Maude said that currently members of the public have multiple log-in details and passwords to access different public services, which results in significant duplication and increased expense to the government.

The government aims to create a market of accredited identity assurance services delivered by a range of private-sector and mutualised suppliers.

"It has been reported that Visa is involved in delivering information for the database, and I suspect organisations such as [credit reference agency] Experian are significant players," said Titterington.

"The most comprehensive information that anybody holds on a large number of individuals will be those held by the credit rating agencies," he added.

The government is not commissioning a new database but using private-sector databases to link personal details.

"There is clearly not much bespoke work involved in this. They are talking about having a first prototype available in October of this year, and this speed is possible due to the government using existing projects and existing infrastructure," said Titterington.

Titterington believes that there will be very little capital costs involved with the project, but an ongoing service cost is almost certain.

"These private-sector databases aren't going to be giving it all up for nothing. Visa isn't in that business, and neither is Experian, or anyone else for that matter," he said.

The current government proposal appears to be limited in scope compared with Labour's national identity database. It is not going to be used as a day-to-day method of proving an individual's identity. But it could be extended to other areas.

"It could be used in high value, very infrequent transactions, like somebody applying for their passport, or nationality enquiries," said Titterington.

"However, I wouldn't have thought it would be much use in day-to-day transactions," he added.

"This tackles the government's main problem of getting more things online, in that it helps with the identity and authenticity of users."


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