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Tony Blair and William Hague call for digital identity cards

Tony Blair and William Hague call for digital identity cards

Former British political party leaders Sir Tony Blair and Lord William Hague have heralded digital identity cards as part of the "technological revolution."

On BBC Radio 4's Today Programme this week, Hague said: "we’re in the fastest period of innovation in the history of human civilization, and that looks like artificial intelligence, climate tech, and bio tech. The UK has to be one of the leaders in that field and we have got many of the components of that in this country, great universities and great businesses, however other countries are forging ahead."

He went on to say that "in order to get ahead of that [the UK] really has to redesign the state around technology."

The duo have authored a report entitled ‘A New National Purpose: Innovation Can Power the Future of Britain’ for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. The report includes recommendations such as building foundational AI-era infrastructure, incentivising pensions consolidation and encouraging growth equity; and increasing public research and development (R&D) investment.

Within the recommendations for foundational AI infrastructure, the report proposes the use of privacy-preserving digital ID for citizens. Further, referencing public fears around digital identity, Blair said: "if you look at the biometric technology that allows you to do digital ID today, it can overcome many of these problems."

This move comes shortly after European Parliament members of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee voted to support a new digital ID framework. These recommendations also come after the Government placed an emphasis on technology and innovation in their Autumn Statement as part of the attempt to ensure the UK becomes the new Silicon Valley. 

Regarding Blair and Hague’s proposal, Colum Lyons, CEO of ID-Pal, said: "While it's encouraging to see support for digital IDs in Britain as part of a long-term tech revolution, there are immediate issues that need to be addressed in the short term, especially relating to Right to Work and Right to Rent checks."

He added: "It's the time to make meaningful change and not limit the ability of digital solutions. The change should be omnichannel, inclusive and fully embrace the capability of biometrics and technology to enable a true reshaping of the state around technology."

Harry Weber-Brown, CEO of TISA Digital, described this report as a "welcome step in drawing public attention to the benefits of Digital ID, and it is good to see consensus growing about the advantages technology can bring businesses and the general public."

Weber-Brown also noted that this is an area that they already are working on, and could be used in the future for applying for financial products and services, such as opening a new bank account, transferring a pension, or applying for a mortgage.

He mentioned: "It is important that opposition to ID cards - whether digital or otherwise - does not obstruct the development of useful programmes which are pushing to improve consumer experience and increase efficiency within financial services.”

On Today, Blair's concluding message was: "Unless politics starts to ask the right questions about how to harness this technology, mitigate its risks and embrace opportunity, then we risk doing what actually happened in the 19th century, which is when the industrial revolution happened politics took decades to catch up with it."

Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 24 February, 2023, 10:16Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The potential allocation of a Telephone-number-for-life, tied to your digital identity card and National Insurance number would be an interesting thought-experiment....Big brother could watch you, but equally any criminal or illegal activity could be very carefully monitored and only known individuals could access digital infrastructure.  That should provoke some debate?   happy to hear it! 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 26 February, 2023, 11:23Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Politicians push for digital ID as it opens the door to absolute surveillance and control of the population. It is a vehicle for exclusion (for people governments dislike/fear) and intrusion instead of inclusion. A honeypot of data open to hacking and misuse.

The fact that these two are advocating digital id is a sure sign it is bad idea. Their concern that when "the industrial revolution happened politics took decades to catch up with it." illustrates their hubris.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 27 February, 2023, 09:46Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The removal of physical cash from the world - to be entirely replaced with digital funds is equally threatening.  The question is around the possible benefts to society, weighed against threats.....  as well as the populaces willingess to kow-tow....  Isnt the Driving licence in the USA an ID card by proxy?