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Tony Blair and William Hague call for state-backed digital IDs

Blair Hague ID
Image credit: paparazzza via Shutterstock

Putting aside their political differences, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Conservative Party leader William Hague have come together to jointly advocate for the UK to roll out digital IDs.

Writing together in The Times, the former political rivals said that investment into science and technology was essential to achieve bipartisan success in the country, with a particular focus on data-driven infrastructure reform, and digital identification.

The pair called to reorganise “the centre of Whitehall to drive the use of data and AI across government, including digital ID for every citizen, a national health infrastructure that uses data to improve care and keep costs down, and sovereign AI systems backed by supercomputing capabilities”.

Digital IDs are a controversial technology that allows people to prove their identity using information stored on an app. Digital IDs have, to some extent been embraced in the UK, as shown by the success of the London-based startup Yoti, which last year received approval, along with the Post Office, for people to use their digital ID for property renting and job applications.

Despite small-scale uses, digital IDs are not universally accepted in the country in the same way that passports and driving licences are.

Blair and Hague are keen to change this, arguing that a government-approved digital ID card scheme would allow easier access to public services.

“In a world in which everything from vaccine status to aeroplane tickets and banking details are available on our personal devices, it is illogical that the same is not true of our individual public records,” the two wrote.

They also drew a distinction between existing digital ID services from companies like Yoti and their vision for its future.

“Rather than creating a marketplace of private-sector providers to manage the government-issued identity credentials of citizens, the government should provide a secure, private, decentralised digital-ID system for the benefit of both citizens and businesses.”

One country that has state-issued digital IDs is Estonia, which it issues at birth and are used to complete online administration such as applying for prescriptions.