“Digital Vouching” by Government and Trust Frameworks is Key to the Success of Digital ID Ecosystems

Digital IDs may be the key to ensuring that the public can access important services in a world that’s completely online and digital. But to make it viable, especially in scenarios where people cannot prove who they are, a system of vouching can be a literal lifesaver…

Digital ID is recognised globally as the key to bridging the ‘trust’ gap that has grown as a result traditional forms of identification failing to meet the needs of a society that is operating in an increasingly online world.

But it has also been recognised as the key to unlocking access to basic, empowering services for everyone. In fact, when the World Bank estimated that 1.1 billion people globally (including refugees and displaced populations) lacked formal identification and were excluded from such services, digital ID was highlighted as the solution. But making it viable depends on the ability to verify.

The Growth of Digital IDs

We’ve seen the rapid growth in recent years of digital ID ecosystems to enable all those who wish to have a digital ID to be able to obtain one, by going through an issuance or enrolment process. Trust frameworks are being established around the world to govern and enable the safe and fair use of digital ID within these ecosystems.

However, there are still far too many instances where individuals are struggling to pass the enrolment process for a digital ID. They still cannot readily prove who they are in circumstances where:

  • There is no comprehensive central government record for all citizens
  • The enrolment process for digital ID is through digitisation of ID documents, such as passports or driving licences – not everyone has these
  • Part of the proofing process relies on evidence of existence in credit databases
  • A bank account possession is a key factor in ID enrolment

In some countries, governments have comprehensive records on all their citizens and digital IDs are issued directly to citizens, often through a face-to-face process. This is an inclusive approach to digital ID enrolment.

It has become clear, however, that many of the other established ID ecosystems are failing their citizens. We’ve found that in the UK alone, 11% of adults are struggling to enrol for a digital ID – that is nearly six million people. In other countries with lower passport and driving licence holding rates, and no ‘positive’ credit databases, this will be much higher. It’s a major barrier and a significant threat to the future success of digital ID ecosystems. With almost everything, including appointments, transactions and operations, is now taking place online, solving the identity problem must be a priority for everyone.

A ‘Digital Vouch’ System

Our comprehensive work in this area has found that a ‘digital vouch’ process could play a significant role. It involves a person who is already trusted legally, vouching for another individual they have known for some time, but who is struggling to prove who they are. By enabling these ‘ID challenged’ individuals to use the digital vouch as a ‘root of trust’ credential throughout the enrolment process, they can then create their own assured digital ID. They could also create a ‘digital vouch with photo’ to be used as validation and verification proof.

If accepted as a key source of evidence for the whole enrolment process, it could help many of those who still cannot readily prove who they are. The process could be applied in any trust framework across the globe, and it would be as robust as a passport.

In the UK’s Digital Identity and Attribute Trust Framework UK, there is some use of a ‘digital vouch’ system, but it is limited to the ‘evidence’ and activity’ part of the proofing process. It cannot be used for ‘identity fraud’ or ‘verification’, which means that the ‘ID challenged’, who have no photo ID document or data for knowledge-based questions, will continue to struggle to meet the criteria defined by the UK’s trust framework. This equates to six million people.

Our message is clear: digital ID ecosystems need to be inclusive, but the existing ecosystems will continue to exclude millions of people around the world from access to vital private and public sector services. This is not acceptable. We believe that digital vouch could bring the ID challenged into the digital ID ecosystem, and we urge governments and trust frameworks, particularly in the UK, to implement them fully.


Nick Mothershaw
Chief identity Strategist, Open Identity Exchange

Nick Mothershaw is the Chief Identity Strategist of the Open Identity Exchange, a member’s organisation whose goal is to make it easier for consumers, organisations and things to trust each other when interacting online. Previously, he led Experian’s development, launch and operation of a full “Identity as a Service solution”. Experian uses this as an identity provider within the GOV.UK Verify scheme and for its own customers; making this the first example of a Digital ID that is interoperable across public and private sectors in the UK.