Using citizen IDs for commercial services will take an identity ecosystem

Citizen identity systems like the UK’s Verify initiative are costly. It only makes sense to offset that cost by allowing commercial entities to utilize citizen IDs. Here's what it will take.

I was heavily involved in the UK government Verify scheme for several years. It was a challenging service to build as the government designers behind the initiative had a very specific set of challenges. First, they had to design for the type of wide demographic represented by an entire country. At the same time, the service had to be secure from fraud. This was, and is, a fine balancing act. It takes the usability vs. security debate to a whole new level.

Identity theft is a scourge of modern times. Javelin Research on identity theft and fraud has reported some interesting changes between 2017 and 2018. Although the overall number of victims decreased in 2018, mainly due to a decrease in card fraud, there was an increase in accounts being opened in victims’ names. As someone working in the field of identity management, this concerns me greatly. The true cost of online impersonation has only just begun to be realized, and the industry needs to build bridges to stop this, now.

I believe that a way forward is to bring together the knowledge that government and commercial services, like banks, already have.

What have we learned from citizen identity?

Governments need to allow their citizens to access government online services to keep up with technology changes, reduce costs, and meet citizen expectations. But many government services have a high value. Online tax services, for example, have already been victims of fraud. A look at the IRS ‘dirty dozen’ list of scams used to defraud the U.S. tax system shows what they are up against.

Getting that heady mix of “identity for all” within a hardened identity framework is no mean feat. The UK government’s attempt at doing this has been heavily criticized. The UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) published a report that looked at the shortfall of Verify. These shortfalls are mainly a mix of cost (always an issue for government) and ‘match rates.’

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