The Memo: Why are calls for digital ID cards causing a stir?

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Why are calls for digital ID cards causing a stir?

Charity Agasaro – 13 March 2023

In order to keep pace with the so-called ‘technology revolution,’ Sir Tony Blair and Lord Hague are encouraging the UK government to consider the use of digital ID cards. With a previous attempt by Blair being halted by the coalition government, the issue remains contentious. Under this scheme, information held by state agencies would be kept on a mass database. As a result, people would have their proof of age, right to live in the UK, driving licence and many other aspects of their identity all in one place.

For critics of this scheme, it constitutes an unnecessary invasion of privacy and a potential security risk. With no immunity to cyberattacks, the idea that information such as health records, property and salary could be found in a mass digital system has sparked fears of hacking and the potentially devastating results that come with it. However, high-profile proponents of the scheme maintain that it’s important to tap into the potential of technology, and  set the UK apart as a leader in the field. They insist that with vaccine status and banking details all readily available on our devices, public records should follow suit. The last time serious steps were made to digitize identity documents was in March 2022 when the Office for Digital Identities and Attributes was created. The department ensures that security and privacy measures are enforced by agencies, and it has the authority to provide organizations that meet their standards with a Trustmark. However, the UK government has emphasized that digital identities are not mandatory, and people can still use their paper documents where they prefer.

The debate has refocused the public’s attention on the Online Safety Bill that has been in discussion since 2019. The aim of the Bill was, among other things, to better manage big tech while regulating online behaviour and safety. The bill argues that websites and social media platforms have a ‘duty of care’ for users, and it would give Ofcom the authority to penalize companies that don’t take this duty seriously. This would include a 10% fine on total income and a block on the organisation’s sites.