Identity policy in practice

Policy wonks sometimes wonder what would happen if Ministers were forced to carry a reminder of their failed policies in their pocket for over a decade. A natural experiment now shows they learn nothing and are inclined to wheel out their failed policy in shows of blatant opportunism. The Home Office cancelled the Windrush generation’s passports, it would do the same to their ID cards – or those of EU citizens – and cause far more intentional misery for British citizens. If all the 3 million used the paper process rather than the digital one, the only budget that would get broken is the Home Office’s.

Phil’s just published the go-to piece for those concerned about the records Government keeps on them that will be used to determine whether they get residency. The services linked to, all already available, show the power of digital services rnade by people who care about citizens’ needs, not just Government’s needs.

So why did no digital team in Government (anywhere?) publish that post? And why is ‘Android only’ the sole approach Home Office Digital could get through its process?

In the current climate, it seems the choices for our national identity infrastructure are the commercially-backed identity assurance model of GOV.UK Verify, or an ID cards scheme run by the most punitive Home Office the country has ever seen.

Those whose interest in identity is driven by Brexit should be extremely wary of demanding ‘punishment cards’ for every citizen, that the Home Office could revoke at will. The Home Office has proved it cannot keep adequate records of who is here entirely lawfully – in some cases choosing to destroy them, in so doing ensuring it could never issue ID cards that would satisfy the most extreme of Leave advocates.

If he really is a thought leader in his field, Charles Clarke has been carrying such a punishment card for a decade. Or perhaps he is just wrong – as are all those trying to revive the identity ‘debate’ for their own purposes.

GOV.UK Verify can work today for institutions and companies (such as accountancies submitting detail for their clients) as well as individuals, if Departments wanted it to work.


How HMRC can allow accountants to use Verify

In short, Verify assures only the identity of the human being at the keyboard. Everything else is down to the service being delivered.

A service could therefore determine:

Who are you? [Verify login] => Who are you working for today?* => Who are you submitting on behalf of?*

Where one person has multiple roles relevant to that service (e.g. a freelance accountant working for multiple firms), or multiple customers who they represent (e.g. an accountant with multiple clients), both of those questions can easily be asked where needed – the service then storing them as attributes of the session if deemed necessary, with only some details shown to the taxpayer (i.e. the company that submitted the record, rather than necessarily the named individual).

The latter two questions would be optional if a submitter works for just one company, or if they only have a single client. And if an employee really wants to keep their tax accounts separate, they could use a different ‘work’ ID provider than their ‘personal’ ID provider.

HMRC’s current gateway conflates all three – a company gets a username/password and hands it to whomever they like, and HMRC gets to blame them for it. While that may work perfectly well for HMRC, it is not addressing a user need – rather, it is solving the overarching institutional requirement in Government: a preference for a quiet life.

HMRC’s Government Gateway may wish to hide in the ‘90s, hoping nothing ever changes. The question is whether that is an approach DCMS (with “policy leadership”) will support. Though that may not necessarily mean that much if HMRC also doesn’t care.

The acid test for Cabinet Office on this is whether DWP has a handshake with HMRC, to give them both a quiet life. Given the attempt to sneak such a deal into the Digital Economy Bill last year – thwarted by a single act of idiocy by HMRC – perhaps they do.

While Whitehall technocrats squabble perpetually in committee over the policies their pet systems will and won’t support, a seemingly endless march of ‘flagship’ policies continue to cause misery to the very citizens they claim to serve.

If the Government is committed to digital delivery, it should deliver.

posted: 15 Jun 2018

Puntcon 2018

Conferences are fun, but don’t have ducklings. Or champagne. Many years ago the legendary Geek Punt Picnic morphed into PuntCon, the Cambridge leg of the alternative conference circuit. And after the undoubted success of our earlier ventures, we’re going to head off up river again on Sunday 1st July 2018.


In keeping with tradition there will be no talks, no presentations, no agenda, and nothing to disturb the quiet delights of the river on a Sunday afternoon. But apart from that, it’s a conference and therefore probably tax-deductible.


The Official Invitation:


You are invited to Puntcon, the fourteenth great geek punt picnic, taking place on or about the River Cam on the afternoon of Sunday 1st July 2018.


Full details are here on Eventbrite. There’s a Facebook event, too, for those who want it.


Although it says there are 250 tickets that is ‘nominal’ as it’s a big river… but Eventbrite needed a number 🙂


How it Works:


As before, turn up outside the Mill public house on Mill Lane between 1200 and 1230.


Four or five of will be deputised as PUNTERS and will come with Sam and Bill to collect the boats, the others will walk up beyond the rollers where we board


We will head off  between 1230 and 1300 – if you are late you can walk up river and catch us as we don’t punt very fast!  We will be heading upriver rather than along the Backs – more picnic places, fewer tourists. We normally stop half-way along Grantchester Meadows and hum Pink Floyd tunes.


Bring something to drink and something to eat. Actually, bring a lot to eat and a lot to drink – it’s thirsty work!


Note that there aren’t any toilets (but there are hedges) – the nearest pub/tea room is approx 20 min walk)


Punts will be booked/organised/commandeered for you so you do not need to hire one. We will take as many punts as we need [one for every six/twelve people] and head up river to a convenient picnic place on Grantchester Meadows where we will eat/drink/carouse. Those arriving late can join us there.


Anyone can punt. Anyone can be shown how to punt. But you are not expected to punt.


We normally get back to Scudamores around 1800. Those heading back to the railway station can be dropped at a bridge within walking distance.


Post punting we have the option of retiring to the pub or a restaurant and letting Sunday evening happen around us.


How Much


There is no registration fee or indeed any other cost. Bring food and drink and entertainment. Punt fare will be split between all comers –  it works out at twenty pounds per person. Infants are not expected to contribute.


The Invitees


Please feel free to invite other people – it’s a big river and there are lots of punts. This page is here to give us a rough idea of numbers in advance so I know how much bread to get, but there’s a Sainsburys five minutes walk away anyway…


Some idea of who’s coming is available via the facebook (unfortunately, other platforms aren’t really available). Book your spot in a punt via eventbrite.


So come along — it’ll be fun.



@billt and @smithsam


posted: 25 Apr 2018