Verified? The UK Looks at Using Social Media to Establish Identity

By Carlton Purvis

You can use Facebook to leave comments on Web sites, communicate during a disaster, and even to register as an organ donor. Now the UK is looking at the idea of using social media as proof of identity for access to public services. Citizens would be able to use their online profiles to look for jobs, pay taxes, and even apply for a passport.

Instead of creating a centralized database that would be connected to national ID cards, an idea floated by the Labour Party, individuals would be able to choose from a list of “trusted non-government organizations” to verify their identity. Under this plan, no personal information would need to be stored by government services, the government says. People would be able to use banking login credentials too.

The Cabinet Office also says it would be a good way to reduce login fatigue from having to remember login credentials.

Critics of the new plan hit the Web minutes after The Guardian published the story, raising questions about the same privacy issues the government was hoping to avoid with the new “identity assurance programme.”

“I don't fancy seeing my records being shared publicly because Facebook have rolled out an update and ‘forgotten’ that they've changed the default privacy settings,” comments user jamesoverseas.

 Another user expressed worry that if someone gains access to a Facebook account, that they could then gain access to additional private information about a person and their government benefits.

Other online debates center on the fact that most social media accounts aren’t verified and in the past fake accounts have been verified incorrectly.

“I have at least ten IDs that I use for research purposes. Which one do I use to access confidential information about myself,” said copywriter Martyn Wilson. “Or should I wait until some civil servant leaves a laptop in a pub somewhere?”

There is no official line from the Cabinet Office yet on the details on the identity assurance program on its Web site, but the section working on the project have maintained a regular blog on progress of the program.

A post on Thursday says the government is working with privacy organizations to address privacy and security.

Sometime in the next few weeks officials plan to release the first list of “certified providers,” The Guardian reports. They hope to have the plan in place somewhere around 2013 or 2014.

photo by ZapTheDingbat/flickr


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