The GDS is doing this by making the Document Checking Service (DCS) available to a group of commercial companies on a trial basis. The project aims to reduce barriers to users being able to do things online – in particular, being able to prove their identity easily and safely.
When a user creates a digital identity account with GOV.UK Verify, the UK government’s identity assurance service, they can use their passport or driving licence as proof of who they are.
If someone provides these details, they’re checked against government records to see whether they match a valid document. The DCS compares the document details with records held by government agencies and responds with whether or not a valid record for the document exists. The response is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – no other information is returned or shared.
A DCS check is useful because it lets you check whether a document is valid in real-time without needing to examine its physical security features, such as watermarks or holograms. It’s sometimes hard to check these kinds of security features over the internet as, for example, a photo of a passport hologram taken on a mobile phone camera may not be high enough quality to tell whether the hologram is genuine or a forgery.
A DCS check on its own doesn’t prove someone is who they say they are, but knowing that there is a valid record of the user’s passport or driving licence helps an identity provider (IDP) – an identity checking service – be more confident that the user is indeed the person they claim to be. For example, if a passport gets stolen, a DCS check will stop someone else being able to use it to create an identity account.
The DCS also limits the amount of data that gets shared about the user’s document. The user provides the document details to the IDP, which forwards them to DCS. DCS returns only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in response.
The pilot is a cross-government collaborative project run by teams from Government Digital Service (GDS), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO), who all form the DCS team. Under the pilot, companies are able to use DCS checks as part of their own digital services.
Some of these services will allow users to create digital identity accounts they can use elsewhere on the internet, while others will use the DCS check to speed up processes that involve checking whether a passport is valid, such as pre-employment checks.
The companies taking part in the pilot are only able to use the DCS to check passport details that users have given them – they can’t access any other data about the passport or find out about other passports in the database. If a user chooses not to give their consent, these companies will have other ways to verify their identity. All companies taking part had to prove they meet security and privacy standards.
The project was announced by Matt Warman (MP) – Member of Parliament – in his capacity as Minister for Digital Infrastructure (part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) during his keynote address to Identity Week 2020 (16-18 November). During the speech, Mr Warman gave assurances that ‘no organisation has been given direct access to government-held data — instead, they receive a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response as to whether their customers’ passport is valid. This helps to protect people’s privacy while clamping down on opportunities for identity theft and fraud.’
Mr Warman went on to say that ‘this is an important step in testing industry demand for these kinds of services. It also shows how the government can work with industry to ensure that privacy is central to policy development and delivery and ensure trusted identity verification.’