back to article Identity disorder: Does UK govt need Verify more than we do?

One problem writing about government IT is that after a while it feels a bit like Groundhog Day – a syndrome that must be even more pronounced for the folk working in it. Six years ago I remember clearly being walked through the reasons why the British government needed an online identification tool to enable citizens to use …

  1. 0laf


    So we'll have Government Gateway, Verify and in Scotland you'll have the National Entitlement Card as well. Plus all your private authentication credentials.

    Joined up thinking indeed.

    I'm just shocked they haven't publicly announced the gov will be using Facebook (I'm sure it was thought about in private).

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: Yay

      They aren't using Facebook, they are using Google instead.

      1. 0laf

        Re: Yay

        Very true. I'm Google would salivate at the idea of Government mandating 25 million sign ups to Google+. That would take it up to 25 Million users.

  2. Warm Braw

    There was never any offline identification tool...

    In the past, if you wished to discuss your tax or put in a benefit claim you filled in a form and posted it. Or perhaps rang up. And it was dealt with without elaborate proofs of identity.

    I'm still struggling to see exactly why you would need " instant identity assurance" of a kind that will inevitably make it difficult for some people to access government services. I can't see why I need a Verify ID to get a pension forecast when I could previously ring up and ask for one in exchange for providing my NI number. Who is this protecting? Not me, not the government, though presumably foisting some of the cost of Verify onto the Pension Service is necessary to recover the pointless expenditure.

    Some of the government's online services are very good. I've just renewed a passport with almost trivial ease; renewing car tax is straightforward. Verify is just an expensive solution looking for a problem. In fact its only real justification is to implement "Labour's much-maligned and scrapped ID card system" by other means: you may not have to carry an ID card, but if you can only access government services with an "official" ID handed out by large corporations in cozy state deals then you might as well.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: There was never any offline identification tool...

      I'm not sure why the passport service and the DVLA can't give you a digital certificate and work as certificate authorities. For those who don't have a passport or a driving licence then the DSS could also offer digital certificates if they're happy that someone is who they say they are.

      This is how it works at the moment offline (you need to show passport/driving licence) and would probably fit in quite well with their workflow.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: There was never any offline identification tool...

        Government Gateway was pretty much a CA.

        Early users of the self-assessment system got a certificate signed by the GG CA key, which they used to log in.

        Then they went to just a username/password after much faffing about proving your identity.

        Now they're throwing both of those away for... well, nothing yet it appears.

        There's no reason that the UK government can't be a CA, that signs a further CA cert for all the individual agencies, that then use that to sign individual certificates much the same as people generate an SSL certificate now (no tech needed, really, just save a file somewhere and keep it private). And you can even have the DVLA cross-sign your cert along with the Passport Office or whoever to ensure that you have only the minimum amount of crossover, that they all have their own disparate systems, and that NONE of them know what your actual private key is (signing a certificate request != knowing the private key of the certificate itself, unlike previous comments on this site believed!).

        And if you use industry standards, no reason you can't issue everyone who needs it with cross-signed accountant certificates, smart cards with those same certs, and readers for those who want one. This kind of thing has been available for decades and is used to authorise billions of pounds of business as a matter of course, down to tiny businesses, school pensions, etc.

        The solution is there. But nobody can really profit from it.

        But Teacher's Pensions, for example, charges you a fortune for a per-user certificate signed by them. And it's REQUIRED if you are a school and want to, say, check the List 99 Barred Lists (compulsory legal check on all staff, why it's done through TP is anyone's guess).

    2. 0laf

      Re: There was never any offline identification tool...

      If they get the service to work then they no longer need to employ anyone to pick up the phone and speak to you or open your mail and read it. This is all about self service and saving money.

  3. John Latham

    Beware of simple thinking

    Most issues in the area are caused by one or both of:

    a) People thinking that government is one homogeneous entity.

    b) Government thinking that people are fungible meatsacks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beware of simple thinking

      c) Focusing on "design" at the expense of all else.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Beware of simple thinking

        d) Not focussing on design at all - but maybe we're thinking about different meanings of "design".

    2. Commswonk

      Re: Beware of simple thinking

      a) People thinking that government is one homogeneous entity.

      In fact the problem is that the GDS is not trying to enable people to interact with the government but with the civil service; the two are not one and the same thing.

      I would also add

      e) Government Ministers believing that saying "make it so" actually does make it so.

      Almost without exception it doesn't...

  4. mfwiniberg

    As I've said to their face before now (via Twitter and on-line fora etc) if GDS spent as much time developing its services as it does tweeting about how wonderful it is, or running workshops for people to come and learn about how GDS works, maybe they could rediscover their reason for existence.

    1. 0laf

      Reality is in the eye of the tweeter.

      So if they have an utter clusterfuck of a disaster losing billions, killing thousands and selling the Western world to Soviet rule but tweet -

      "Latest GDS development is fucking great"

      Then all is good. Doubleplusgood even. To consider anything else would be a thoughtcrime

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Journalistic standards are slipping

    "Francis Maude"

    Whatever happened to "mad Frankie"?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Journalistic standards are slipping

      Too easily confused with the other "mad Frankie" - aka Frankie Boyle.

      1. Rich 11

        Re: Journalistic standards are slipping

        No confusion -- only one of them enjoys wielding the knife.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Journalistic standards are slipping

        Too easily confused with the other "mad Frankie" - aka Frankie Boyle.

        You're new here, aren't you.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The whole "digital by default" concept shows just how out of touch with reality these Ministers are.

    Those most at risk and often those whom these services are aimed at often will have no access to a computer or are unable to use one - never mind have the ability to create a "digital ID" in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The point of digital by default is that those cases are dealt with as exceptions.

      Helping someone operate a computer in a walk-in-centre is essentially the same thing as helping an illiterate person fill out a form.

      1. Nasruddin

        Walk-in centre? What walk-in centre? HMRC and DWP have got rid of them....

        1. cantankerous swineherd

          he meant friendly local library. oh wait...

  7. Dr Scrum Master


    I'm not sure if Experian will remember who I am given that I've been overseas for a while, as for my children born overseas...

    1. cantankerous swineherd

      Re: Overseas?

      likewise a family abroad for years with the army.

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Overseas?

      Experian never forget.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It was never about technology

    There's 2 problems to solve in establishing such a system - getting the functionality right and getting the data populated.

    The article mentions how GDS have failed at the former.But regarding the many digital identities have HMRC currently accumulated to a known level of accuracy? The NHS? Passport office? DWP? Student Loans? Electoral Commission (all of whom presumably are also consumers for the service). Yet the project was railroaded down the compulsory competitive tender route which excluded these bodies from acting as providers.

    Instead provision of the service is handed to a non-public sector, non-UK corporation.

    It almost makes Donald Trump look sane.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems to me that there's an easy way to save £450M with absolutely nobody missing GDS.

    Thats nearly 1.5 weeks of Brexit savings that we could use. So far AFAICS its the only Brexit saving, but no doubt the fools from the Brexit campaign will be along shortly to let us know how wonderful things will be after Brexit with rainbows, unicorns and other such things.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It would be good to reunite the country around a common cause, and a battle bus with the 'GDS costs you £450m' on the side would work very well. Personally I think EC are useless parasites as well but you're right that we need to deal with the enemy within; we have more enough bureaucrats of our own in the UK.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Find out how it's done in the Nordic countries and you will save years of trial and error.

  11. Graham Marsden

    "Verify might be used for the mandatory online porn checks...

    " be brought in on the Digital Economy Bill."

    Because, of course, people are going to be *so* willing to sign up for that and give over their details so the government can keep track of their porn browsing and *nobody* is going to get themselves a VPN and go to sites that don't let the State snoop on them.

    Meanwhile, of course, the UK's niche porn producers and independent sex bloggers are not going to end up out of business as their costs massively increase and their revenue vanishes...

  12. creepy gecko

    Pension Forecast

    I'm fairly sure I had to create a Government Gateway account just to get a state pension forecast. I couldn't see the point of it at the time, and I've never used the GG account for any other purpose since then.

    The Government Gateway database must be a hacker's wet dream...

    1. taxman

      Re: Pension Forecast

      You don't need a GGW account for a pension forecast, just a printer attached to your PC to print a form off and post it. Keeps folk employed (post office, drivers, civil servants).

      And before you comment - how do you know if your application isn't just printed off at the other end and handled just like a posted application :-)

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