Data strategy and digital identity

The Conservative Government promised to produce a White Paper on its ‘National Data Strategy’ before the end of 2020 – one of the many initiatives shelved or delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.  But digital issues offer both enormous economic benefits and considerable social and political risks, and technological innovation is opening up new advantages and dangers as time passes.  

Now that the UK has left the EU, there are divided opinions within our government about staying close to its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or loosening its restrictions to make it easier for security services to investigate and entrepreneurs to innovate.  So Liberal Democrat data scientists are looking at the issues raised and providing (much needed and welcome) advice to our parliamentary party.

Rob Davidson and an informal group associated with ALDES (the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists) have prepared a note on Digital Identity.  The current debate is far removed from the old concept of a national Identity Card, centrally-run by the government.  Many of us have had to prove identity, producing our driver’s licenses to prove our age, rattling off our NIC numbers, even paying notaries for verified copies of our passports to satisfy bank queries: using government-issued identifiers to satisfy private demands.  Poorer people don’t have passports, and a declining number now have driving licenses, so find it harder to prove age, credit or status.  

The Government Digital Service’s ‘Verify’ Scheme, to provide digital verification through collaboration with a group of private bodies, ran into the ground at the end of the coalition government.  Since then a number of tech companies have provided proof of age, of credit-worthiness and other aspects of identity to platform providers, shops and lenders.  The Liberal Democrat approach recognises the value of simpler – and universal – access to identity verification in an increasingly digital economy, welcomes an open market approach to provision, but proposes effective regulation of data provision by independent bodies.  You can read the full note here. Digital Identity – Briefing (1).

Strengthening data regulation, building up powerful regulators, setting higher standards to prevent the accumulation of information from multiple sources to build personal profiles, are needed not just as digital identity becomes more widely used but across most dimensions of the transition to a digital economy.  Conservative instincts support deregulation, Labour stronger state control.  Liberal Democrats look for well-regulated markets, with built-in safeguards for individual rights and government intervention as a backstop.  We will judge the government’s Data Strategy by these criteria, when at last it appears.

* Lord Wallace of Saltaire is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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6 Comments

  • I’m glad the Lib Dems are looking at this, and the current system is far from ideal, but it makes me nervous as there is enormous scope to make things irrevocably worse (disclaimer – it was opposition to ID cards that originally made me a Lib Dem supporter).

    The advantage my passport or driving license has is that is it’s stolen, I know, because I don’t have it any more. As we have seen with the many data breaches over the years, including some big organisations, you might not find out until months or years later (or never?) if your digital details are stolen.

    The acknowledgement “The individual would need some software to store these digital credentials – a digital wallet” raises obvious concerns. What about those that lack the ability or capacity to get online, own or operate a smartphone etc?

    While I have the liberal instinct not to automatically trust such things to Government, the “open market approach” begs the questions of who pays, and how much? I can imagine the credit agencies like Equifax salivating at the thought of this – the same Equifax that informed me in 2017 that it’s database had been compromised and my personal details stolen.

    Finally, how do we avoid “mission creep” – from Government spotting an opportunity to get what they wanted originally from ID cards, and from companies who will want to exploit the huge collective value that lies in our data?

    Data is the new oil, and the Government assumes ownership of mineral rights via the Crown estate, to be sold for profit. How do we avoid our data being the raw material for the 21st Century economy?

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 14th Feb '21 - 11:20am

    “Strengthening data regulation, building up powerful regulators, setting higher standards to prevent the accumulation of information from multiple sources to build personal profiles, are needed not just as digital identity becomes more widely used but across most dimensions of the transition to a digital economy.”

    I agree with this Libdems digital strategy fully. However, although obvious I will still mention it, that’s it best to remember that organisations store this data information, whilst people will actually use this information in their daily lives. Therefore, any system introduced should be in beta format to account for any changes/glitches that come to light. This way the digital economy can be mined and improved for a better service that is customer-led and service-led, that really is beneficial to move us into the future of a modern society, rather than economy-led and government-led, that is about the status-quo that moves us back to those who have and those who do not have ideology of a traditional society.

  • Rob Davidson 14th Feb '21 - 12:03pm

    The briefing can be found on the ALDES website too:

    https://www.aldes.org.uk/digital-identity-briefing/

  • Andrew Tampion 14th Feb '21 - 3:19pm

    On a point of pedantry the GDPR under Article 2 has never applied to either Criminal Record data or to intelligence data. Under the UK Data Protection Act 2018 both Police and intelligence data are covered under Part 3 & 4.
    On the main point I am against any form of compulsory identity scheme. Even voluntary Government led schemes are objectionable because they are prone to become mandatory by default. I agree with Nick Baird about the dangers of digital wallets.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Feb '21 - 8:01pm

    @Nick Baird
    “While I have the liberal instinct not to automatically trust such things to Government”

    Quite

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    “I can imagine the credit agencies like Equifax salivating at the thought of this – the same Equifax that informed me in 2017 that it’s database had been compromised and my personal details stolen.”

    Join that particular club!

    If one’s identity is stolen it is gone for good – it is out there. Difficult for most of us to create a new one. For which reason it seems to me that the penalties for companies or governments misusing our personal data or allowing it to be stolen are nowhere near adequate.

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