UK government tests whether 'online activity history' can serve to verify identity

Out-Law News | 26 Jul 2016 | 3:11 pm | 2 min. read

The UK government has tested whether internet users' "online activity history", including data from social networks, can be used to verify their identity when they use online public services.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) said that the testing, which took place between March and June this year, were part of the government's digital ID initiative 'Verify'. Verify has been looking at digitising customer ID verification processes that have traditionally required people to provide paper copies of bank statements, energy bills or other documentation to confirm their identity.

"We have been looking at projects that consider the use of different sources of activity history when proving an individual is who they say they are," Livia Ralph, industry engagement lead at the GDS, said. "This is because adding more data sources and a choice of methods will open up GOV.UK Verify to more people."

"Although the creation of many online accounts does not require details of a real identity at the point the account is set up, the accounts themselves are potentially a useful source of evidence that an identity has been active over time," she said.

The Post Office, Experian, Verizon, LexisNexis and Veridu all participated in the tests, which involved a series of one-to-one sessions with internet users of varying ages in the UK. Participants in the tests were able to "choose from a number of online accounts to prove their activity history", Ralph said.

"The overall reaction to using online accounts such as Facebook, PayPal, LinkedIn and others as part of the process of proving their identity was positive," Ralph said. "The younger the participant, the more likely they were to complete the task with ease. Users from the older demographic, while still completing the task, were more likely to raise privacy concerns or to be worried that their data would be used for purposes other than identity verification."

"Because we always operate within the identity assurance principles, any new data source or method for identity proofing would only be implemented by certified companies if a user gave their explicit and informed consent. And it would be one of many options certified companies give users to assert their identity," she said.

Ralph said that if data from social media accounts can be used for digital ID verification purposes then it could increase UK adults' use of Verify by 9% and by up to 38% in the case of 16-25 year olds.

Under the Verify system, individuals using government online services choose a certified ID assurance provider with which to verify their identity. This involves answering security questions and entering a unique code sent to an individuals' mobile number, email address or issued in a call to their fixed-line telephone number.

When using government services online thereafter, government bodies are able to rely on the third party verifications of individuals' identities. The system is still in development but is aimed at streamlining the identity verification process for both government bodies and the public.

Last week Christopher Woolard, director of strategy and competition at the Financial Conduct Authority, said anti-money laundering and 'know your customer' regulations present no barrier to financial firms verifying the identity of customers via wholly digital processes.