Thursday, 31 May 2012

Some food for the thoughts of Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Philip Johnston – IdA/GDS

Those chaps in the Government Digital Service (GDS) get about a bit. California. Estonia. And now the White House.

GDS's job is to do Martha Lane Fox's bidding and make public services digital by default. In order to achieve that, they need to deliver an identity assurance service (IdA) and they were in Washington "to share, learn and collaborate with some of the key individuals and organisations in the US wrestling with the challenges of identity in cyberspace" including Senator Barbara Mikulski.

The encounter between these wrestlers "focused on the economic necessity of creating an ecosystem of trust both for individual users of the internet, who are overwhelmed by usernames and passwords, and for businesses where the increasing cost of fraud is offsetting the efficiency benefits from digital channels".

The notion that Whitehall could create an ecosystem of trust needs to be compared with the markets they have created to date, e.g. PFI.

Far from being overwhelmed by usernames and passwords, individuals worldwide appear to be using the web more and more. Of course what GDS are offering is yet more usernames and passwords. But with this difference. Theirs will be the only usernames and passwords we have to remember. They will act as gateways to all the other services we use. We will become entirely dependent on GDS and its various unicorn-hustler agents (Facebook, Google, ..., Mydex) to conduct any transactions with anyone. Can they be trusted in this rôle?

And the cost of fraud appears to be shrinking, not increasing. The only cloud on the horizon is DWP's Universal Credit scheme which, if it follows the government's independent learning accounts and tax credits, promises to be the locus of a fraud feeding frenzy.

But apart from that – three false propositions in one sentence, a record? – after a long bout, there was one result: "the Senator made it clear that volunteers are needed if the voluntary approach in the US is to be successful".

Gluttons for punishment, our GDS delegates went on from the White House to OIX, the Open Identity Exchange, where "there was great interest in what the UK Identity Assurance Programme is doing and an offer from OIX to help us achieve our goals – which we readily accepted".

Hands up everyone who remembers voting to have their identity traded on a US exchange?

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