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Online fraud is a growing concern. John Thornton looks at the government's response to the problem ...
Online fraud is a growing concern. John Thornton looks at the government's response to the problem

In an increasingly virtual world identity theft is a growing problem. According to CIFAS - the UK's Fraud Prevention Service, there were 75,000 cases of this in 2002 compared to just 20,000 in 1999.

Identity theft is when someone wrongly uses your personal identification to obtain credit, loans, rentals or even a mortgage in your name. They may even commit crimes while impersonating you, having previously obtained your details from old letters, credit card receipts, or by intercepting your post.

E-commerce and e-government can only work if citizens and service users can easily prove or authenticate their identities and they feel confident their personal data is secure.

The primary purpose of the Government Gateway is to provide a single means of authentication in order to access all government services. So,

I would know with confidence that I had contacted Westminster City Council, for example, and it would know that I was really John Thornton. It would also mean that I could then move seamlessly from Westminster's website to other websites, such as the Inland Revenue without the need to keep proving my identity.

I have been a supporter of the concept since its launch. However, after over two years of operation and in excess of £15m of expenditure, there is still no credible timetable for rollout. Like others in local government I am now beginning to question whether the gateway will be capable of delivering a robust authentication service for councils in time to support their plans to meet the 2005 target.

The problem seems to be that the needs of local government were not properly recognised at the outset. The gateway was developed primarily to meet the needs of central government, even though 80% of government transactions with citizens are conducted through councils.

'Authentication' is a basic building block that is needed in order to implement e-government and almost every council's e-government strategy is based on using the Government Gateway. Failure by central government to deliver a credible gateway solution within the very near future would put at risk local government's ability to meet the 2005 target.

John Thornton

Director of e-government, IDeA

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