Digital chiefs in other Whitehall departments privately describe Verify as "a disaster"by Bryan Glick / July 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
It was one of the least remarked upon items in the Conservative election manifesto, hidden away on page 81. Yet it’s a pledge that aims to change the way we all interact with government online—and potentially with banks, internet firms and even online shops, too.
“We shall roll out Verify so that people can identify themselves on all government online services by 2020,” said the manifesto.
But what is Verify, why is it so critical, and—more importantly—will it work?
In February, Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer committed to this 2020 target of 25 million citizens using Verify—or Gov.uk Verify, to give its full name—to prove their digital identity. Gummer championed the scheme and wrote it into the manifesto. He didn’t survive the election, losing his Ipswich seat, but so far it looks like Verify will—despite a growing backlash from critics and years of missed deadlines.
Internet companies and governments have wrestled with the issue of our digital identity for as long as there’s been a worldwide web. In 1993, one famous New Yorker cartoon joked, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
While few of us are quite that deceptive, the question of who we are online—and whether we are who we say we are—remains thorny. Consider how many digital identities you use: one to login to email, another for streaming music, a different one for online banking, yet more for shopping, gambling, or public services such as tax self-assessment. It’s a mess.
There is an obvious imperative for the government to tidy up. If you’re the government, you want citizens to deal with you online—according to official figures from 2012, the average cost of a digital transaction is almost 20 times lower than the cost of a telephone transaction, about 30 times lower than post and 50 times lower than face-to-face.
What’s more, the government wants to engage with the younger, digitally-savvy generation using tools they are familiar with. Gummer even claimed that making government digital would “restore faith in democracy.”
Yet originally, Verify was created out of political necessity. In 2010, the new coalition government carried out its promise to scrap Labour’s hated ID card scheme and, in a 2011 PR stunt, then Home Office minister…