British Telecommunications PLC (BT) demonstrated concept Web services on Thursday, including an identity checking product that it predicts will be the "ubiquitous verification service for business and government" in the U.K.
The service, called Uru, has been jointly developed by BT and software company BG Group PLC. It takes the identification details provided by an individual and compares them to a range of databases, including registers of names and addresses in the UK, death registers, the national telephone directory services database and MPAN, the Meter Point Asset Number database maintained by the U.K.'s electricity companies.
While the service is currently CD-based, the companies are working to put it online as a Web service product, BG Group Chief Executive Richard Law said Wednesday.
The Uru service solves the problem of customers being asked to provide several forms of identification, which can easily be forged, Law said. It can quickly check whether an individual is who she says she is and that she lives where she says she does, he said.
"Existing systems used in the U.K. are based on credit worthiness, not on identity. All they're interested in is whether you're good for the money. So if a fraudster manages to take or copy your ID, it's like an open checkbook," he said.
The system does not disclose personal information, Law stressed. Instead it checks that the information provided is correct. This should cut down on privacy concerns, he said.
There are over 2 billion authentication transactions taking place every year in the U.K., most of them in the financial, retail and governmental sectors, according to Law.
The databases currently available to Uru won't solve all identity issues -- indeed, they only confirm identity in about 50 percent of cases at the moment, Law said. But they are an important first step, and BG Group is currently speaking to the U.K. Passport Office about putting its information in the public domain, and to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) and Inland Revenue, he said.
"I predict that in 10 years time, 90 percent of identity checks will be done this way," he said.
The U.K. government has over 100,000 databases, in a very fragmented system, and is looking to make the information more useful, Law said. If digital certification is to work, for example, identity checking will be essential, he said. While BG Group has "no formal backing from the government," Law is aware of no other company able to provide the information needed, he said.
"So we believe we're poised to grab that market."