The relationship between trust and identity

The organisations best placed to provide consumers with digital identities are regulated institutions that have already established the trust of their customers, says David Birch, an internationally-recognised thought leader in digital identity and digital money.

He says that digital identities which consumers trust will be crucial as more transactions move into the virtual world.

“This is why people – not just Australia Post – are focusing on digital identity as the platform for the sort of evolution of the new interconnected world,” he says.

“Without that identity platform, it means we can’t have the trust that we need to make transactions take place.”

Birch, a director of UK-based Consult Hyperion, the secure electronic transactions consultancy, was a guest speaker at a recent series of talks and workshops on digital identity hosted by Australia Post.

In the past digital identity was as a “top-down thing”, that is, something managed and handed out by the government, like passports, he says.

However, experience has shown that Australians are suspicious of any sort of national identity card from the government, which leaves it to other institutions to provide identity solutions.

“You’ve got people who I personally think should be providing digital identity services on a large scale which is people like the post, the banks, regulated institutions."

"Remember, people at the post and the banks, they already do identity – know your customer or whatever on quite a large scale,” Birch says.

Choosing your own 'brand' of identity

“They’re a regulated institution. They know about security. I trust them. If they break the law, they’ll get in trouble. I don’t want to look after my sensitive personal data. I don’t want that responsibility.”

These trusted digital identities could be used to access a range of other private sector services as well as government services, says Birch.

He envisages a system where it would be possible to “white label” identities, that is where an identity solutions provider facilitates the underlying digital identity and the consumers choose which “brand” of identity they use. They might choose to use their football club membership, for instance.

“Aussie Post has a head-start in this space because, for one thing, there’s post offices everywhere and most people in Australia go into a post office at least once a year,” Birch says.

“If you had to go to the post office and sign up for your ‘Aussie Post ID’ because you want to redirect mail or some other reason, then why wouldn’t you use that?” he says.

Birch says he would prefer a structure for digital identity provision where the government sets up the regulatory framework, but the actual provision of digital identities is provided by other organisations.

“People should be able to choose which identities they want to use. And then, hopefully, people like Aussie Post will provide mass market convenient identities which a lot of people want to use, and that provides a reasonable line of business for them,” he says.

Birch says that in some instances, government regulations will have to catch up to allow people to use their digital identities where up until now more traditional forms of identity are required.

For more insights on the relationship between digital identity and the trust factor, read our white paperA frictionless future for identity management.