Friday 12 June 2015

RIP IDA – Walter Mitty and the machinery of government

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but,
just in case it isn't obvious to all,
IDA is dead.

IDA, now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)",
is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme.
And it's dead.

GOV.UK is the award-winning on-line face of government in the UK and, as Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE CDO CDO told us back in October 2012, "GOV.UK is not Government on the Internet, but of the Internet".

What does that mean?

It's all something to do with riots. That's what he told the Code for America Summit a year later in October 2013. GOV.UK is the only defence against a recurrence of riots in the streets of the UK.

And it's all something to do with what Tim O'Reilly has called "Government as a Platform" (GaaP).

Some academics disagree. Professor Mike Martin of Newcastle University Business School for example. He points out that GOV.UK is a website, and not a government. Mark Thompson on the other hand, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School, reckons that if only we plot certainty against ubiquity, GaaP will come to power.

Whichever, Mr Bracken is in no doubt about the general election we have just enjoyed here in the UK: "It was great to see GOV.UK handle the change of government so smoothly".

That was back on 19 May 2015. Having handled the change of administration single-handed, what was in store now for digital government in the UK? The sense of ambition without limit was palpable. When the new government laid out its legislative programme in the Queen's Speech, would there be room for anything else, or would it be all about GOV.UK?

Twitter was all over the story ...

... and ...

... and:

The Conservative Party, who won the general election and formed the new government, had promised in their manifesto to protect children from pornography on the web. The Guardian newspaper article referred to in that last Tweet was written in the language of GOV.UK Verify (RIP). It seemed legitimate to suggest that the government would use GOV.UK Verify (RIP) to protect children.

Legitimate, but wrong, as the Government Digital Service (GDS) primly told us, GOV.UK Verify (RIP) can't help:

Who knew that GDS have a roadmap? They're not meant to. That's like having a policy – verboten.

In the event, against all expectations, the Queen's Speech didn't mention digital government once. These politicians. Useless. They simply don't understand.

Worse, the Prime Minister subsequently announced that "responsibility for the Digital Economy Unit will transfer from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport", for all the world as though digital is nothing but a branch of the entertainments industry, please see Machinery of Government changes: 1 June 2015.

While the nation mourned, hopes dashed, one journalist kept his head. Neil Merrett, mentioned in those Tweets above and long recommended by DMossEsq, read him early and read him often.

In GOV.UK Verify (RIP) potential in focus as private sector talks begin Mr Merrett tells us that "the Cabinet Office is understood to have brought forward talks on identity assurance with private sector internet service providers, raising the possibility of an expanded remit for its GOV.UK Verify (RIP) platform to include online services such as adult content sites".

And the upshot of those talks? Apologies for the long quotation but it does make the point, repeatedly, that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is too little, too late:
Ultimately, it is thought that the government's ID assurance platform may not be at an advanced enough stage to be useful to current market demands and the needs of internet service providers for a cost effective, intuitive and anonymised service.

... key industry figures working online in areas such as the adult entertainment industry say that rather than waiting for government to fully develop its in-house ID assurance solution, the private sector is already searching for and - in some cases - implementing solutions to tackle a changing landscape for identify and age restrictions.

... having spoken with the Cabinet Office around ID assurance and potential support, he [Chris Ratcliff, managing director at broadcaster Portland TV and a council member of the Digital Policy Alliance] said he did not see any possible rollout of the beta service happening quickly at present, with the market already having to move forward with adopting available solutions.

From the perspective of the needs of online service providers, including adult services and pornographic sites, for a fully functioning ID assurance platform, Ratcliff said GOV.UK Verify (RIP) was likely to arrive too late to serve as a one-stop cross-industry solution.

"This is a solution that I needed about three and a half years ago and not something in beta," he said.

While not ruling out potential use of the government's ID assurance platform entirely, Ratcliff claimed that Portland already had a broad number of options to verify age of subscribers and service users.

He added that the adult entertainment industry and online suppliers of films, alcohol, tobacco and other age restricted products, together with the Digital Policy Alliance, were looking for more innovative means to verify customers, where possible allowing for the potential for anonymised checks that could remove any possible abuse of confidential and personal details.

The UK finance sector has also sought guidance from GDS along with other private providers as part aims to build an innovative "digital passport" ID assurance solution to support online applications for savings accounts and related services ...

"This is an issue that we will bear in mind as we build the prototype. Consumer security and cybercrime considerations are paramount and we do acknowledge that whilst we are working with [GDS], GOV.UK Verify (RIP) may not be the answer for this project," said Dalton-Brown [director general of the Tax Incentivised Savings Association].
GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is no use to HMRC. Or anyone else in either central government or local government. Those "identity providers" who have signed up to GOV.UK Verify (RIP) have wasted their shareholders' money. And it's no use to the private sector.


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