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£30m gov ID scheme to be steered by dole office

DWP (once again) puts out notice to private sector players

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Identity assurance remains a hot topic at the Cabinet Office. And, despite a false start late last year, Whitehall is pushing ahead with its plans to offload ID-handling onto the private sector.

The department's digital boss Mike Bracken confirmed yesterday that, as expected, the Department for Work and Pensions had been tasked with overseeing procurement of identity services across government.

It published a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union (Ojeu) that signalled the Cabinet Office's intention to create a private sector market for the handling of taxpayers' ID.

As The Register exclusively revealed last year, such a plan will almost certainly need primary legislation to make the scheme a reality in the UK.

Despite that, plenty of cash has already been plonked on the ID assurance pile, with the price tag standing at £30m, according to Bracken. In November, Francis Maude's department had allocated £10m to the scheme.

While some would argue that it remains unclear why it is necessary to build an entirely new platform for transactions between benefit claimants and the DWP – given that a system for handling taxpayer's identity credentials is already in place – the Cabinet Office is convinced that a market can be created wrapped around its digital agenda.

That digital agenda amounts to the development of a fancy-looking website – GOV.UK – that will replace New Labour's Directgov, while the ID assurance scheme is expected to eventually kibosh the grandly named government gateway that was built by Microsoft back in 2001.

Maude has repeatedly insisted that the so-called "digital-by-default" agenda will save money in the public purse.

"Commercially, it means that the potential cost of procuring services for the cross-government Identity Assurance programme has been slashed from £240m to £30m," explained Bracken in a blog post yesterday.

Whether the cost of ID assurance might balloon remains open to question, however. After all, the scheme remains at the development stage of what a Cabinet Office spokesman told us in November last year involved only the "initial instantiations of the model". Beyond that, the offloading of identity-handling onto the private sector is expected to require legislation.

But hey, what's £30m to the taxpayer, right?

As for the details laid out in the tender document to the Ojeu, ID assurance is expected to initially support Universal Credit and the Personal Independent Payment systems to be implemented by the DWP in 2013 for 21 million claimants in the UK.

Providers need to offer either online, telephone or face-to-face identity verification.

Some other tidbits include:

  • Identity verification – Verification will be performed in an appropriate channel (web, telephone or face-to-face). The provider will verify that sufficient evidence exists to verify that a person presenting on a given channel is the owner of the claimed identity.
  • Credential management – The provider will securely manage the credential lifecycle (eg, user name, password, hard or soft tokens, grids, voice samples, memorable information, one time passwords etc), from issue to decommission, including all aspects of management of the customer, which will include for example credential loss/recovery/ reissue.
  • Identity correction services – For example, managing and resolving errors identified by the customer and / or DWP.
  • Identity revocation services – Revocation of the identity (or use thereof for government authentication purposes) from the supplier.
  • DWP is building interfaces to its systems for Identity Assurance that currently use standard SAML 2 profiles. The initial set of services for DWP will therefore need to be built so that they can interface with this, and support authentication requests and responses in the telephony channel. However this interface may not necessarily apply as the services roll out across HMG.

The tender document also points out that it's difficult at this stage to work out the cost of the ID assurance scheme to government.

"In advance of market engagement it is difficult to quantify the expected length of contracts or cost of this service. However, this manner of ID assurance provision represents a brand new, cross-HMG approach that will be of significant value across HMG," it said.

The dole office actually stuck its ID services tender in the EU journal in late December, only to almost immediately yank it because the DWP had failed to follow the necessary procedures required for the procurement process.

As an aside, Google is among the companies involved in the gov's private sector identity marketplace. The Chocolate Factory changed its privacy policy this week to allow the search giant to more easily track its users across its online estate – with ID verification placed at the centre of its plans to earn even more ad bucks. And Europe isn't happy about the potentially "unlawful" terms of service tweak. ®

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