UK considers social media logins as official proof of identity

Authorities in Britain are considering widening the officially recognized forms of identification to include some more modern options, according to reports in the British press. No longer will British citizens have to resort to birth certificates, passports or drivers licenses in order to confirm their identities when required; if the new scheme goes ahead as currently discussed, cellphone accounts, bank accounts and even social network logins will be approved forms of identification online for multiple public services.

The Guardian reports that the Cabinet Office has confirmed that Ministers are expected to announce in the next few weeks the release of a new list of “certified providers” that will be part of a new program described as offering “identity assurance.” The program is designed for citizens to be able to control their own data online, thereby avoiding the kind of governmental oversight that caused public outcry when the previous administration had suggested a national identity card program.

The program would apparently allow citizens to select their own method of ID verification from a list of pre-approved non-government organizations, to ensure that the government was in no way responsible for storing said ID data anywhere, nor would have access to it beyond the confirmation that said user was who they claimed to be. The aim of the scheme is to both prevent identity theft, but also to assist what the authorities are terming “login fatigue” – that is, the forgetting of passwords or login names because you have far too many to remember them all correctly.

Amusingly, the project is said to have the unofficial title of “Little Brother.” With depressing regularity for any government program in any country, not everyone is on board. Guy Herbert, spokesman for the privacy rights campaign No2ID, complained that “the danger is that [the program] could be sidelined and used as a fig leaf by the data-hungry government departments,” although he admitted that, in its current form, “this is a fine scheme in principle” and “is backed by ministers.”

The organizations being considered for the chance to act as intermediary in this program haven’t been made public yet, although it’s believed that some are more strongly pushing for more established entities – banks, cellular carriers – over social media for reasons of increased online security and less likelihood of successful hacking or breach of personal data storage. Officially, the Cabinet Office has merely confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions is working with the Cabinet Office’s identity assurance team to ensure that the program will be up and running by the launch of the DWP’s “universal credit scheme” for the unemployed and those on low incomes; that program is scheduled to be in place in late 2013 or early 2014.

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