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Four ways out of the stalemate over Government-assured digital identity

Published 20 November 2017

It doesn’t take a Chess grandmaster to see what moves need to come next, argues Frank Joshi


Logjams are situations which appear irresolvable but frequently occur quite by accident. By contrast a stalemate is far more calculated, more planned, even more deliberate.  In the past, I’ve been conciliatory, have given the benefit of the doubt, and have used “logjam” to describe what I thought was happening with Government-assured digital identity. Circumstances cause me to change my approach.

Where I think we have arrived with GOV.UK Verify is a stalemate where the game ends as a draw but there are no winners (you play chess, don’t you?).

A single move will place whoever moves next in check. And obviously nobody wants it to be their move.

Therefore, instead of a single move, I’m calling for a singularity   of action, in fact a tetrad of action, taken all at the same time, in terms of political, commercial and technical steps needed to ignite the open market in digital identity. Citizens want it. Service Providers want it. Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service (GDS) want it.


That one: The Autumn Budget on 22 November  by the Chancellor of the Exchequer remembers to include GOV.UK Verify. Not merely mentioned as a throwaway line item as some announcements have been in the past, but placed prominently; it deserves to be as part of the digital transformation strategy being pursued by Cabinet Office.

We know Verify is not a dead duck. If it were, GDS would not be awarding contracts over £1M of public money. Just last week, Government Computing broke a story about this

Depending on whom you ask, and in spite of its shortcomings, Verify can deliver massive benefit to citizens and the private sector alike; if only the stalemate can be broken.


That two: Providers of digital identity exchanges are embraced for the value they bring to facilitating an open market in digital identities. As I hinted in my last piece in Government Computing, 04 Oct 2017, I talked about broker not trader model as the most pragmatic way forward for hubs providers. 

To break the stalemate, let’s float the idea of a known price per transaction passing into or out of the Identity Hub Service and put that into the pricing models. Let’s open this at just £1 per pass. The act of inserting a line item for use of an Identity Hub Service with a known price will, I think, give rise to other prices being quickly identified (notice I didn’t say “trickle down” – we know that sort of economics hasn’t worked).


That three: the balance of power shifts from a commercial contract where Identity Providers tell the Relying Parties what price they are willing to sell for to a commercial contract where the Relying Parties state what price they are willing to buy for and the Identity Providers compete to satisfy that target price. Identity Providers can work with to supplement their offer alongside the Attribute Providers, all passing through the identity exchange.


That four: the identity hub service becomes jointly owned by the participants in the open competitive market for digital identity. The participants are the Identity Providers, each with a seat at the table. This mechanism creates a level playing field with clear rules by which all parties engage to the success of the scheme.

This could feasibly be a join-owned co-operative based on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms or, more pragmatically, a joint venture which mitigates vested interests and shares liability.

It must necessarily be an open market at the start and going forwards in time. A competitive open market in which participants hold a stake in its success negates potential anti-trust activity.

This is a model that has seen considerable success within the payments industry, for example Visa Europe which prior to becoming a subsidiary of Visa Inc in June 2016 was owned by its participating banks, around 250 of them in UK and Europe.

Involvement of Cabinet Office is there to protect the citizen, to make the rules about how the Verify brand is used and to promote the scheme nationally to citizens. The involvement of GDS is there to ensure technical standards are adhered to. Government Internal Audit Agency is there to assure and report on progress.

In summary

So you see, we don’t have to put up with a stalemate any longer; the Chancellor (in the Autumn Budget) and the market participants (in their commercial contracts) can, if they still want to, see the open market in digital identity start in 2017 and flourish in 2018 and beyond.

Frank Joshi is director of Mvine, a British SME that specialises in next generation platforms for the digital economy

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