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New digital IDs could see YOU given a cradle-to-grave ID number | Science | News

Tony Blair and William Hague call for digital ID cards

Imagine not having to provide a utility bill to prove your identity. Imagine voting in a general election from the comfort of your home. Imagine not having to register at a new GP, dentist, or hospital ever again. These are the sorts of things a digital ID, or digital wallet promises millions of Britons. The idea has been around for decades, and was first floated in the UK by Sir Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister. His plans were ultimately scuppered when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010, and no more was said about it.

In recent weeks, Sir Tony and his former political foe, Lord William Hague, put their heads together for a new report reimagining what digital wallets — and a number of other technological advancements — might do for a Britain that appears to be teetering on the edge of the global political and technological precipice.

Benedict Macon-Cooney, Chief Policy Strategist at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, was heavily involved in the report but didn’t anticipate the reaction to its publication coming. “ I probably wasn’t expecting quite as much,” he told

When the report went live, cries of Big Brother and an incoming surveillance state flooded social media and the papers. They are not unwarranted. But Mr Macon-Cooney believes they are far-fetched.

But where does the idea come from? To find that out, you need to look around 1,000 miles northeast, to a small Baltic nation called Estonia — the country Sir Tony and Lord Hague have based their report on.

Since 2002, Estonians have been allocated a digital number that they take with them to their graves. This 11-digit number enables around 99 percent of the country’s 1.3 million citizens to access over 600 government services.

Tony Blair talking about digital IDs on the Today programme

Sir Tony Blair and William Hague spoke about the IDs and other things in their new technology report (Image: BBC)

Britain's new Prime Minister David Camer

David Cameron and Nick Clegg tossed aside Blair’s plans for a digital ID in 2010 (Image: GETTY)

While a tiny country, the digital scheme has transformed Estonia into a technological powerhouse, the ID card being the most highly-developed such system in the world.

A chip on each citizen’s card embeds multiple files, protecting the information within these files with a key encryption. It can be used as a definitive proof of ID for all manner of things, including digital signatures, I-Voting, to check medical records, submit tax claims, and even pick up and be allocated prescription medicines.

The country estimates that it has saved each individual around five days a year in form-filling, phone queuing, and council visiting.

Not only has it positively saved people time, but it’s also saved the Estonian government a pretty penny — around two percent of annual GDP.

In theory, this money can then be pumped back into the public sector, on things like healthcare, domestic infrastructure, public transport. The Estonian government might even invest it into a welfare system. The digital ID cuts bureaucracy, saves time and gives citizens more bang for their buck.

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Benedict Macon-Cooney, Chief Policy Strategist at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

Benedict Macon-Cooney said the introduction of digital IDs could save Britain billions (Image: Joel Day)

It is an enticing prospect, especially given Britain’s current financial woes. “In the UK, we’re paying the highest tax burden since World War 2,” Mr Macon-Cooney said. “I don’t think we’re getting a corresponding service delivery that is commensurate with how much tax we’re paying.”

The estimated savings numbers when it comes to the UK are far more impressive than in Estonia: according to the report’s authors, it could free up £9.3billion through sharing medical records, easing the burden of increasing costs for the NHS, it could increase tax revenues by up to £35billion as fraudulent activity becomes easier to identify and stamp out, and it might also help ease Government serv