Shades of ID cards haunt new authentication scheme

Coalition announces project to check identity online...

Coalition announces project to check identity online...

ID cards: Identity assurance scheme

Privacy campaigners say that the new online identity verification scheme has echoes of Labour's project to introduce ID cards, one of which is seen aboveImage: Home Office

The government has revealed plans for a national proof-of-identity scheme that privacy campaigners say has echoes of the ID card project that was scrapped less than six months ago.

The identity assurance scheme, announced by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude last week, will create services that will verify a person's identity when they access public services online.

The scheme will, according to Maude, allow people to access various government services online without having to remember multiple log-in details.

Guy Herbert, general secretary for NO2ID, said the project has shades of the ID card scheme in some of its aims and in the officials involved but added there are no firm details on how the proposed scheme will affect personal privacy.

In December, the coalition government passed legislation scrapping Labour's ID card scheme - which aimed to provide an ID card for every adult in the UK - with Home Office minister Damian Green describing the scheme as "intrusive, bullying, ineffective and expensive".

NO2ID's Herbert said his biggest concern is officials using the scheme to piece together a profile of an individual using information held by multiple government departments.

"What we don't want to see, and what could easily happen, is that this could be used as an excuse to share and Hoover up more information using the assurance element of the scheme," he said.

However, Herbert added that enabling a person to verify their identity online was not in it itself "problematic".

Under the proposed scheme, private companies will run the accreditation services that verify a person's identity when they log in to a service online.

Maude said the scheme will help people accessing services related to the Department for Work and Pensions universal credits, NHS HealthSpace, HMRC's one-click programmes and the Skills Funding Agency.

The government plans to test a prototype of the identity assurance scheme by October 2011 and to start using the service to verify identity when accessing public services by August 2012.