We want to fix digital identity—for everyone
We’ve been commissioned by the Scottish Government to make VouchSafe a reality.
Today, we’re ready to share VouchSafe, our answer to the problem of how to make essential services accessible to everyone, including those without basic forms of ID.
We’ve been commissioned by the Scottish Government’s CivTech programme to build and test a new service to help digitally and financially excluded people across Scotland prove who they are.
In this newsletter we want to talk about the scale of this problem and opportunity, show you VouchSafe, and share some exciting next steps.
A billion-strong crisis
At a global scale, digital identity has a long long way to go. Scotland is at the forefront of helping people prove who they are, it’s still a difficult process for many in the UK, and it can be prohibitively expensive. It costs an adult more than £80 to apply for a new passport in the UK.
Think of the last time you had to prove your identity, online or in the real world. It was almost certainly a mission. At some point in the process you probably had to provide a copy of, or share some details from, a form of ID you already have.
But for the millions of people in the UK that don’t have a passport or driving licence, proving identity online can be virtually impossible.
We’re not talking about a few fractions of a percent of people on the fringes, though that would make this work no less important. We’re talking about great swathes of the population:
in the US, nearly 29 million voting-age citizens lack a valid driver’s licence and over 7 million have no other form of government-issued photo ID
worldwide, 1 billion people lack basic forms of ID
Now that photo ID is increasingly needed to vote, millions are finding themselves disenfranchised from their basic democratic rights. With a looming election, this is both a worsening crisis and a growing opportunity. Digital identity isn’t an industry in need of disruption. It needs turning upside down. We’re working to do that.
It’s all in the vouch
The answer to all of this is the vouch: the ability for someone to confirm the identity of someone else. In The power of the vouch, we talked about how this was traditionally the domain of professions society has deemed trustworthy, like a dentist, accountant or civil servant.
So we also talked about how to make this more equitable through a means of vouching that hinges not on the societal status of the voucher, but their relationship to the vouchee. And we talked about our vision to solve this with technology in a way that is not only easy, but safe. We named this concept VouchSafe.
Technology isn’t the whole solution to the problem, but it’s a part that didn’t exist before VouchSafe. Our experience in making government services accessible to more people means we’re ideally-placed not only to build the technology, but also work with the policymakers in government to smooth the way for its deployment.
VouchSafe began as a response to CivTech Challenge 9.7: How can technology help increase access to public services and products by making use of the trusted relationships people already have? Though we’d been thinking about vouching for some time and we put a lot of effort into the proposal, this was one of many irons in many fires: a big opportunity, but a long shot. But as it turned out, we won a place on the CivTech Accelerator to turn VouchSafe into a working service.
Our pivot to product start-up
A lot’s happened since we wrote that newsletter in September. Most significantly, VouchSafe has grown from an innovation concept to a working prototype—one that we’re ready to show you. VouchSafe makes it easy for a vouchee to ask someone they know to vouch for them, and for the voucher to do so. Take a look at our demo video:
We spent the winter break talking to our advisory board. What has become extremely clear in recent months is not only the scale of the opportunity, but our unique placement to grasp it.
That means we’re transforming from a scrappy band of freelance consultants to a full-fledged product-centred startup. We have office space in London and talented people working on VouchSafe full-time, and we’re building a core team to support getting VouchSafe out into the world.
Some things aren’t changing. We remain absolutely committed to tackling societal crises, and we’ll continue to do consultancy when it makes sense. The difference is that we now operate with a strategic focus at the intersection of digital identity and inclusion. You can think of us as the digital identity and inclusion people—we’d really like that.
Work with us
For the next step, we’re looking for public-sector organisations and charities we can work alongside, and who would benefit from vouching as a means to making their services accessible to people most in need.
This is a brilliant time to get involved. It’s a chance to help shape the service to make sure it does what organisations and their end users need. And it will help us to validate the robust security and privacy features that are crucial to a digital identity service.
Get in touch
If you’d like to get involved with VouchSafe, we’d love to talk. The scale of the opportunity here is hard to overstate. We have the potential to slash costs for organisations that serve millions of people around the world.
Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat or to see a demo.