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Digital Identity

31st October 2017

Digital Identity.

There has never been a time to be more aware of the dangers and risks of cyber fraud. According to the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales, there were almost two million cases of computer-based crime during 2016 alone. KPMG has reported that the increased use of online technology led to a 55% increase in fraud, whilst notes that cybercrime now costs the UK over £10 billion a year. 

It is in this context of rising online crime, that identity fraud has emerged as one of today’s greatest law enforcement challenges. During the first six months of 2017, the UK had a record 89,000 cases of identify fraud, with the Chief Executive of the fraud prevention service Cifas stating that identities are now being stolen at a rate of 500 a day.

Identity fraud can take many forms, ranging from cloning bank details to replicating online profiles, and can happen in a range of ways: hacking Facebook accounts, scanning online images for valuable information and sending fraudulent emails. Whilst it is the case that internet users can currently deploy a range of measures to try to protect themselves from online fraud- such as installing anti-virus software and using password protect devices- it remains the case that identity fraud is on the up and the methods of the fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated.

For these reasons, the increased use of digital identities can go some way in addressing the pressing problems of cybercrime. The question to answer, of course, is what does digital identity actually mean? Put simply, Digital Identity is ‘an online or networked identity adopted or claimed in cyberspace by an individual, organisation or electronic device.’  This can include usernames and passwords, as well as date of birth, national insurance numbers and even medical histories. The identity, itself, is then subsequently linked to a ‘digital identifier’ such as an email address or domain name.

However, to ensure that such a system can be effective, several things have to be assured. Firstly, authentication must be trusted, with established verification methods, to ensure that all identification mechanisms are recognised. Secondly, due consideration must be given to issues relating to privacy. It is vitally important that any data given to compose a new digital form of identification is not exposed to capture from fraudsters. This means continuing the ongoing work to strengthen and secure our cyber infrastructure. Moreover, from a public policy viewpoint, there should be greater clarity, across jurisdictions, about the recognition and classification of online identity.

By no means will the use of digital identity resolve all issues regarding criminal activity on the internet, but having a trusted universal identity, with verifiable authentication, can help provide a useful barrier to ensure that an individual’s personal identity cannot be targeted and illegally replicated.

It is also crucial that the Government builds upon the good and valuable work it is already doing, to roll out various forms of digital identification across the internet; not just to deal with the problem of online crime but to lead to better Government overall. Schemes like Verify have provided faster and simpler access to a range of Government services- from filling out tax returns to applying for a new passport. From a wider perspective, the Government should champion the positive case for digital identity abroad, supporting organisations such as the ID2020 campaign, who champion digital solutions to the problem of over a billion-people lacking access to the most basic means of proving who they are. 

As technology continues to grow and change, so to must the Government solutions, to tackle rising challenges and make best use of new opportunities.