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Turing researchers tackle over-reliance on blind trust in digital ID’s

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May 26, 2021… The Alan Turing Institute is pleased to announce the publication of Facets of Trustworthiness in Digital Identity Systems, a Technical Briefing from the Trustworthy Digital Infrastructure for Identity Systems project. The publication introduces a new framework to be developed as a resource for and in consultation with governments, humanitarian organisations and industry stakeholders that are advancing digital identity systems. Providing a mechanism for determining whether systems warrant being trusted by the people and organisations that are increasingly relying on them, the framework sets a foundation for assessing the requirements, such as fairness, explainability, privacy and user agency, alongside more established systems development criteria.

The framework is to be published under creative commons license in response to growing use of digital identity in modern society, and particularly the influence of governments in the advancement of digital identity programmes. It outlines considerations relevant to current developments around the world: Examples across all economic settings range from initiatives to enhance the distribution of social support during the COVID-19 pandemic to the introduction of vaccine passports and the reaction of 64% of Swiss voters who rejected their government’s plans for an ID system using commercial companies.

“As digital identity systems progress the promise of new opportunities in public service, governance, and economic growth, we are seeing growing recognition for the need to justify the confidence people are being asked to have in these systems,” says Turing Fellow Carsten Maple, lead author of the Technical Briefing and a Principal Investigator for the project. “Our aim is to enhance the many principle-based and trust frameworks currently guiding development today with tangible, practical mechanisms for objectively demonstrating the facets in an identity system that warrant it being trusted.”

Facets of Trustworthiness in Digital Identity Systems details six pillars of trustworthiness –security, privacy, robustness, ethics, reliability and resiliency—to define aspects that determine predictability of outputs, the appropriateness of information collected, and the sustainability of design in terms of the technology, social and economic environments in which they operate. It sets out opportunities for assessing ethical considerations, such as whether the introduction of a digital system creates bias or barriers that could impact inclusive and fair access to resources and services. The lens provided by the six facets also presents the opportunity to bring together and explore different criteria underpinning aspects such as usability, openness and explainability that are often considered in a more focussed context.

The publication highlights that identity systems operate within an ecosystem of technologies, databases, networks and other infrastructure. The proliferation of machine learning technologies in particular is revolutionising development in the field, with artificial intelligence (AI)-based processes.

“We see significant emphasis on the need for providers to demonstrate security, and increasingly privacy measures within their own solutions. Current developments, however, underline a much broader imperative to provide arguments that speak to why users should trust the overall processes and procedures that govern ID management,” says Maple.

Today’s publication was authored by Professor Carsten Maple, Turing Fellow, Project Principal Investigator, Professor of Cyber Systems Engineering, WMG, University of Warwick; Dr Gregory Epiphaniou, Associate Professor in Security Engineering, University of Warwick; and Dr Nagananda Kyatsandra Gurukumar, Research Associate, Alan Turing Institute. It marks the beginning of a process of consultation into the Trustworthy Digital Identity Systems Framework, being developed by the project.

The next iteration to incorporate metrics for measuring and determining Trustworthiness Assurance Levels (TAL) is being prepared for release in Autumn 2021. The report is available here: Learn more about opportunities for engagement from the project web pages:

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence.

The Institute is named in honour of Alan Turing, whose pioneering work in theoretical and applied mathematics, engineering and computing is considered to have laid the foundations for modern-day data science and artificial intelligence. The Institute’s goals are to undertake world-class research in data science and artificial intelligence, apply its research to real-world problems, drive economic impact and societal good, lead the training of a new generation of scientists, and shape the public conversation around data and algorithms.

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