Blockchain technology could be used to revamp the UK government’s digital identity assurance efforts by providing a cross-departmental approach that “puts the individual at the centre of identity management”, think tank Reform argues in a new study.
Reform said the government digital service’s digital identity management efforts had stalled with Gov.uk Verify, whose uptake has been “slow” in part because the information it provides is insufficient for some transactions, meaning departments need to request and check additional data. As a result departments such as HMRC have continued to use their own independent systems.
The use of blockchain would be an improvement because it would move control of public service identity “from government to the individual”, said Reform in the study, “The future of public service identity: blockchain”.
“A blockchain network could be built across several departments and would act as a thin layer on top of current databases,” Reform wrote. “This layer would enable citizens to view their data, via an identity app on their smartphone, and grant government access to it.”
Automated updates would ensure databases contain current information.
“This means moving from siloed departments holding different and even contradictory versions of a person’s identity to a user-stored identity, in an identity app on a smartphone,” said the report.
Biometrics such as a face scan or fingerprint could add an additional layer of security, it said.
Reform argued the government should emulate Estonia, which is using blockchain to “hand back control of data to the citizen”.
The country gives citizens a unique identifier “allowing them to access their health records and review requests by third parties to access their data, meaning their privacy is ensured”, Reform said.
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Citizens would be given two encrypted keys, one private and the other public, used to share information with public services.
“Taking the example of the passport, the individual would only use their public key when verifying their information with the Border Force,” Reform said.
HMRC has, in fact, built a proof of concept demonstrating the use of blockchain to coordinate the efforts of government agencies at the UK border, the department said earlier this year.
Blockchain “could radically change the relationship between the individual and the state,” Reform said. “Now is the time for the UK government to embrace this technology and remain a truly entrepreneurial, digital state.”
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