Inclusion by Design: Providing Broad Access to Digital Identity Programs

Last Modified: December 12, 2023

By Jon Payne, Entrust

Paravision Converge 2023

Just a few short years ago, the overwhelming theme of the discussion between identity technologists and service providers (including governments) was confidence: How certain could we be that a remote citizen or consumer was not a fraudster? Which biometric modes were most accurate? Which potential attack vectors should we be most concerned about?

These questions are still relevant today, but confidence has given way to inclusion as the dominant theme. If you attended an identity industry conference or event in 2023, there is a good chance you heard government officials talking about their efforts to ensure all eligible users were included and looking for ways to improve their reach across communities.

The reason for this shift from confidence to inclusion is simple: Remote, digital service provision is no longer an idea, it’s the reality. Across the world, governments are delivering more services remotely and leaning on biometric technologies to secure those remote connections. This is true for access to health services, payment of taxes and application for benefits, as well as border control and immigration. Prominent examples include the e-Identity program in Estonia, in the U.S., and One Login for Government in the UK.

As governments have begun to adopt and deliver digital identity programs to support their public services, public confidence has grown. However, as services rely more on advanced technology, there is concern
about whether all eligible citizens can access these services or if some might be left out of the system and, as a result, miss out on services they are entitled to.

The Challenge: Potential Service Exclusions

Based on our discussions with government clients, there are two broad types of exclusion: access to foundational identity documents and access to digital systems. It’s worth briefly outlining this distinction.

Firstly, many citizens struggle to access the foundational documents required to establish identity. According to McKinsey, this is a huge problem affecting almost one billion people worldwide (Nearly one billion people have no form of legal ID | McKinsey).

In some parts of the developing world, traditional identity programs may be inconsistently implemented or difficult
for some citizens to engage with. But, even in developed countries, many citizens struggle to establish their identity because of a lack of a birth certificate, passport, or driving license. This often includes, for example, homeless people and people who have recently been released from prison.

Secondly, some citizens, even if they can establish their identity via traditional methods, may struggle to access newer, digital programs, and so may lose out on many of the benefits their fellow citizens enjoy (Digital ID: A key to inclusive growth | McKinsey). There are multiple potential reasons for this, including lack of access to a PC or mobile device, lack of access to the internet, or simply a lack of familiarity with digital methods. Such citizens may need help to make the move from traditional to digital programs, or they may simply prefer to use traditional methods (on paper and/or in person).

Governments are now facing both these challenges in increasing numbers and are under pressure in many cases from citizens’ groups to ensure that new service programs do not exclude eligible citizens.

Uniting for Solutions: The Shared Responsibilities

For those of us in the identity technology community, it is not sufficient (or responsible) simply to sell products to government clients and then wash our hands of these issues. What governments need are committed commercial partners who collaborate with them on such challenges, to find solutions that work both for clients and citizens.

At Entrust, we take immense pride in working to make our digital services intuitive and user friendly. Our Identity Verification as a Service (IDVaaS) platform benefits from years of development and refinement via pilot programs and beta testing in which we’ve learnt from the public what works and what doesn’t. We bring this experience to our clients and use it to help them solve real-world problems.

A notable example of this is our work to support the UK Home Office in its mission to digitize immigration processing. What started out as a single program in 2019 (for EU nationals applying to remain in the UK after Brexit) has grown into a multi-channel transformation of the way the UK government manages immigration cases.

Because the Home Office was committed to inclusion, Entrust supported the department in extensive alpha and beta testing in advance of go-live, to ensure the public could use the new digital channel to establish their identity in just a few minutes without assistance. Based on that testing, Entrust made several rounds of iterative refinements, building on public feedback, to ensure the experience was as intuitive as possible, thus maximizing the proportion of applicants able to use it.

At the same time, the Home Office acknowledged that a minority of applicants would still seek support, and so established an Assisted Digital service for those needing it. In the end, the huge and ongoing success of this program rests on a “Both/And” approach: the technology needed to be both smooth and intuitive, and support needed to be available for the minority who required it.

The Home Office has now expanded its use of remote digital identity verification to multiple additional use cases. Most recently, this includes the UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) program, expected to process over thirty million cases per year by the time it is rolled out across the world.

The moral of the story is clear: Solving real-world identity problems in an inclusive way requires the smart application of both technology and process. We in the identity industry should not pretend that technology can solve every problem. Rather, we need to work with our government clients in flexible and intuitive ways to ensure that digital identity benefits as many people as possible.


Inclusive Identity Programs: Jon Payne


Jon Payne is Director, Business Development & Strategic Alliances for Entrust’s Identity Verification business unit. He joined Entrust in 2021 via the acquisition of WorldReach Software. Jon has more than 25 years’ experience in immigration policy and operations, having served as Regional Director, Americas at UKvisas, and as Director of CSC’s Global Citizen Services Center of Excellence. He also served as Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.