People wishing to apply for services ranging from tax credits to fishing licences and passports will be asked to choose from a list of familiar online log-ins, including those they already use on social media sites, banks, and large retailers such as supermarkets, to prove their identity.
Once they have logged in correctly by computer or mobile phone, the site will send a message to the government agency authenticating that user’s identity.
The Cabinet Office is understood to have held discussions with the Post Office, high street banks, mobile phone companies and technology giants ranging from Facebook and Microsoft to Google, PayPal and BT.
Ministers are anxious that the identity programme is not denounced as a “Big Brother” national ID card by the back door, which is why data will not be kept centrally by any government department. Indeed, it is hoped the Identity Assurance Programme, which is being led by the Cabinet Office, will mean the end to any prospect of a physical national ID card being introduced in the UK.
The public will be able to use their log-ins from a set list of “trusted” private organisations to access Government services, which are being grouped together on a single website called Gov.uk, which will be accessible by mobile.
In recent weeks, the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service has backed a UK working group of the Open Identity Exchange, which was set up in America to bring organisations including Google, AOL, PayPal and Experian together to find a simple method of online verification that doesn’t require multiple passwords.
Members of the Cabinet Office team travelled to the White House in May to exchange ideas with American counterparts working on the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). The heads of the British and American identity assurance programmes will debate the subject next week in London at the RSA cyber security conference.
As part of the attempt to reassure privacy campaigners, a private identity partner (IDP) which authorises a user of a public service will not know which Government department is seeking authentication.
The Post Office’s involvement in the Identity Assurance Programmes was revealed by a notice placed in the Official Journal of the European Union. The Royal Mail subsidiary sought a third party provider to help in assembling consumer data including name, date of birth, address, gender, passport and driving licence numbers, financial history, electoral roll status and telephone numbers.