The covid pandemic of 2020 has produced some surprising positives alongside all the negatives. One of these positives is a boost to the profile of digital online ID verification, and its usefulness to governments, business and society as a whole. In the UK, a scheme to register and apply online for a state benefit in May – itself a by-product of the national coronavirus lockdown – has been so successful that it has prompted the country’s government to develop and set out a whole future digital ID strategy.

Rise in Numbers of Online Benefit Applications

On the 13th of May this year, the UK government launched its Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. This initiative was designed to give assistance to the millions of self-employed people who found themselves without an income due to the almost total lack of business available because of the government’s imposition of a nationwide “lockdown”, stay at home policy. The scheme is solely available via online applications at the GOV.UK website.

Whatever results the DWP was expecting, it’s fair to say they were overwhelmed with their own success. A massive 2.6 million applications were received in the opening weeks of the scheme. While this figure is instructive about how many self-employed workers there are in the UK, the application process itself also revealed a rather big hole in the online verification sphere.

Perhaps surprisingly (but perhaps not), of those 2.6 million applicants, 1.4 million were severely hindered by the fact that they had no appropriate digital ID credentials with which to further their application. As the HMRC has understandably strict rules on verifying identity, this caused a great deal of frustration among those applying for this essential benefit.

Need for a National Digital ID Verification Strategy

This specific benefit situation highlights a more general need across society. Even in the health sector, ability to prove one’s identity via online verification methods is now a major boost; registration for a new GP, for instance, is now much easier to achieve online with the right credentials. With a national drive to keep healthcare costs down and avoid fraudulent access, this situation is certain to continue.

The perceived benefits of online ID verification have produced a new government body: the Digital Identity Strategy Board (DISB). This is the result of a report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which showed evidence of a massive defrauding of government funding by dishonest online applications.

Statistics available for 2019 show that online ID fraud had risen by almost a third since 2014, and almost a fifth since 2018. Last year’s figure was a startling 223,163; almost a quarter of a million people successfully fooling online checking systems.

Six Principles for Future Safety

The DISB has already made a contribution to future UK online ID verification; it has published six principles by which the strategy going forward will operate. They are: privacy, transparency, inclusivity, interoperability, proportionality and good governance. As a set of founding principles, this certainly seems like a very good base from which to start improving the UK population’s online security, and secure future services.