Digital IDs: Addressing the UK election’s ID requirement

Digital IDs: Addressing the UK election’s ID requirement

John Cullen, Strategic Marketing Director Digital Identity at Thales, shares insights into how the upcoming UK general election marks a pivotal moment for the prospects of ID, and how digital IDs could be the route to garner more public trust.

John Cullen, Strategic Marketing Director Digital Identity, Thales

This year’s UK general election marks a significant milestone. The 2024 election is the first to require official identification to vote.

While this may seem a basic requirement to some, and one that is already the case in dozens of countries worldwide, in England, Wales and Scotland, it is estimated that around two million eligible voters are without official photo identification. This alarming statistic raises concerns about the potential disenfranchisement of a considerable segment of the electorate who may, as a result, not be able to vote. As the public sector and voters grapple to find workarounds and address this gap, this milestone has opened up a wider debate on identification, and the benefits of digital IDs as alternatives.

What is digital identity?

Digital identities work in the same way as the more traditional physical examples that we’re used to – just in a digital form.

Digital identity generally takes two main forms. The first is a digital version of an official ID, like a digital driving license, credit card, or boarding pass housed in a mobile wallet on your smartphone. This would list all identity information typically outlined in a traditional physical ID. The second is a credential for online services, which is required to ‘launch’ the digital ID for the service provider to ‘scan’. This is created through identity verification, often involving biometrics, to prove the user is the rightful owner of the digital ID.

And in terms of applications, we’re not just talking about voting here – digital identification can enable numerous interactions, from setting up a mobile phone contract to signing a rental agreement and proving you’re over 18 when buying a bottle of wine from a supermarket.

Benefits of digital identity

Digital IDs, which can be accessed through smartphones, promise to streamline various aspects of daily life. This technological advancement could revolutionise the way individuals interact with both public and private sectors, facilitating smoother transactions and interactions. With regards to voting specifically, such systems could be particularly appealing to demographics like younger, tech-savvy voters or others who are receptive to digital solutions, further enabling voting.

However, as with any technological development (particularly when it crosses into the public sector), gaining the trust of the public is essential.

Establishing trust in digital identities

Trust is crucial for organisations and governments to successfully implement digital transformations and enhance services. Without it, consumers may hesitate to use online tools, potentially missing out on essential services, which hinders inclusion.

Digital identities address these trust issues by ensuring trust throughout the full value chain and user experience. It is essential that digital identities are designed with privacy in mind, storing personal and sensitive credentials securely on devices using encryption, and performing biometric verification locally when possible to ensure only the user can access the ID.

Another key advantage of digital identity solutions is the ability to share only necessary data. For example, when scanning an ID at a club, you only need to prove your age, but often end up sharing your name, address and full date of birth, leading to unnecessary data collection and potential GDPR breaches. Digital IDs, however, can be incredibly granular in the information they share with service providers, with verification happening behind the scenes, rather than being physically handed over to an individual to manually check.

Lessons from Down Under

The recent deployment of digital ID in Australia serves as a testament to the importance of solid legal structures and the trust of the public. Case in point, less than eight months after

launching a digital driver’s license in the state of Queensland and the app has been downloaded over by over 500,000 users.

The Australian model has demonstrated that when equipped with appropriate safeguards such as stringent privacy protections and the option of voluntary participation, digital ID systems can deliver substantial benefits while mitigating potential risks.

The experience there has highlighted that transparent communication and clear policy

frameworks are instrumental in garnering public support and ensuring the successful

implementation of digital ID schemes. As the prevalence of digital ID increases globally, the

lessons learned from Australia act as a valuable blueprint for the development of systems that are not only user-friendly but also secure and inclusive, and engender public trust.

The final word

The conversation around identity and voting rights is complex and multifaceted, touching on issues of accessibility, privacy and the very nature of democratic participation. In this context, digital IDs emerge as a modern solution that could redefine civic engagement and participation in the digital age. They promote inclusivity, enhance security with biometric identifiers and encryption, ensure business compliance and offer a seamless user experience – all without compromise.

They offer a glimpse into a future where technology and governance converge to create more inclusive and efficient systems of identity verification. Looking ahead, the UK’s decision to require voter ID could potentially catalyse the adoption of digital IDs in the UK, not just electorally – but in other aspects of day-to-day life.  

In conclusion, as the UK general election looms on the horizon, the requirement for voter ID is omnipresent in the landscape of electoral politics – and digital IDs are no doubt one valid solution worth considering.

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