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Gov.UK plans cheap digital IDs for egovernment

Driving down the cost of PKI

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The Government is planning to offer citizens low-cost digital certificates to give them more convenient and secure access to online government services.

Under the plans, digital certificates allowing individuals to prove their identity online - which today cost around £25 - could be made available for as little as £5.

The move follows a growing realisation by the Government that the challenge of authenticating citizens online is now one of the biggest obstacles facing its eGovernment delivery programme.

Digital certificates and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) were for some time the Government's favoured system of trust for online transactions. However. digital certificates failed to take off in the UK in the way imagined.

Now with the launch of its Government Connect initiative, the Government is in discussions to obtain cheaper digital certificates by pointing out that its plans for online authentication could open up a potentially huge new market.

Chris Haynes, Programme Sponsor for Government Connect in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, confirmed that the project is investigating the use of digital certificates and looking to "drive down the cost of PKI".

"We are definitely looking at providing some sort of digital certificate with a PIN code", he said. "Our real issue is to find out whether we can have an affordable PKI.

"We are in negotiations with people saying that 'Given the local authority marketplace, given every citizen in the country necessarily, what sort of PKI arrangement can we come to?'.

"And we're looking at a figure of perhaps five pounds, which we think will easily be recoverable by people using eGovernment services."

He added: "We know why registration, verification and enrolment is important.

"Without these we can't really roll back the boundaries of e-Government. We have to ensure that access channels are reliable, secure environments and cover most of the local authority's services."

Mr Haynes foresees that in the long run, the Government Connect project will place local authorities as citizen's first point of contact for government services.

"That's not to say they won't be able to get to the Inland Revenue by its website, and there will be obviously things like Directgov as well", he said. "But the first point of registration will be with us [local authorities]. So that places the onus on us to get it right."

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