In Depth

Verify system announced - is it an ID card by the back door?

The government has announced a new online system which some campaigners claim is an ID card by stealth

The government last night announced a new ID system, Verify, which will allow Britons to prove their identity online to register for benefits, apply for driving licences and file tax returns. But the plans have prompted privacy concerns.

What is the Verify system? Is it really an ID card scheme brought in by the back door, as some have claimed?

What is Verify?

It’s an online portal where Britons can register to be given a username and password­ ­– and a unique code which can be sent to their mobile phones and used to prove their identity. Users will also be able to register for government services online.

When does it start?

As many as 500,000 people are expected to be using the system, which is voluntary, in a year’s time. The first services to be offered from next month will be driving licences and some self-assessment tax returns, The Times reports.

What about benefit claimants?

As well as tax returns and driving licences, the government wants benefit claimants to use the system to register for their payments. Registered users will be able to view their tax credit and benefits records online from March 2015.

What else will Verify do?

Users will ultimately be able to register for all manner of official documents via the system. The Daily Mail says people may one day be able to use their Verify ID to log in to their bank accounts or check in for flights.

Who will run the scheme?

Verify will be run by five big private companies, including the Post Office, mobile phone firm Verizon and the information services group Experian. People who register will be asked to choose which of the five they want to use.

Isn’t this an ID card by another name?

The coalition scrapped Labour’s unpopular ID card scheme in 2010 – and ministers obviously now expect to be accused of reintroducing it, pre-empting the accusation by telling the Times: “This removes once and for all the need for an identity card because it will be possible to prove your identity securely without one.”

What do civil liberties campaigners say?

Aside from the issue of compulsion – and the government is stressing the scheme will be “offered” to the public and is voluntary – there are concerns that the data may not be safe. Emma Carr of Big Brother Watch, which consulted on the scheme, says the coalition must “tread carefully” to avoid the risk of identity theft.

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