Election issue spotlight: Digital Identity & Privacy

The Scottish Government has plans for a digital identity system to allow users to prove who they are when they are engaging with a public service. If deployed correctly, this would reduce time, bureaucracy, friction, and costs for both the public sector and for service users. The system would be optional, and the user would remain in control over their data.

In any digital identity system there are always risks. Systems developed for one purpose can be abruptly repurposed for another. In the era of our pandemic, when solutions are needed quickly, that oversight, scrutiny, and transparency can be written off as red tape.

Where the parties stand

The following statements were made by candidates during our Human and Digital Rights Hustings. View the full transcript and recording here.


“Going on to [vaccine] passports, I think I’m actually in agreement with others speakers. I personally do have concerns about some kind of passport if you’ve had a vaccine, but I think on international travel there may well be more argument for that.”

Scottish Conservatives – Jeremy Balfour

Scottish Greens

“Patrick Harvie MSP has also had some success over the years of pressing for kind of open document formats and opposing the use of citizen databases, so not just the ID cards bill but the use of citizen entitlement cards and the NHS register, and I think it’s worth noting that during Indyref, however long ago that was, it feels like a long time ago, but there was a Green briefing and kind of document for a discussion or digital rights and no none of the other parties did that, so I think it’s it’s it’s fair to say that the Greens have have really led on this area. 

Just briefly on the question of vaccine passports that’s been asked, our position is that we would be really weary on this. I am really concerned that it’s discrimination against young workers in particular, and obviously there’s some people who for various reasons cannot get a vaccine. So we need to be making sure that we learn from from what’s happened already. We need to be really really cautious, and we can’t have a two-tier recovery in which some people by age – you know it’s absolutely reasonable that the vaccines have been done by age because the science showed that – but you can’t then say that, okay well, that means that young people just don’t get access to services for the future indefinitely.”

Scottish Greens – Kim Long


“Finally, on the issue of a vaccine passport I think we need to tread very carefully there. We run the risk of there being a position created where there are inequalities, because people haven’t been able to get the vaccines, or not been able to to take it up. They would be unfairly treated under vaccine passports, as well as some of the other potential infringements for human rights, so I think there are some important issues here around policing the laws around technology and the use of vaccine passports going forward, and they will need to be explored very carefully by the Scottish Parliament in the next term.”

Scottish Labour – James Kelly

Liberal Democrats

“Now as more and more data and biometric information is available, we want to develop the approach that’s been taken in Estonia, where data is considered to belong to the citizen, where people have the right to know who has accessed their information. We want to take steps to safeguard people from the misuse of their data, cctv images, facial recognition, or biometric information. 

We’re also really concerned about vaccine passports. We feel they’re grossly unfair to the millions who have not been vaccinated yet, and to all those who have been advised not to take the vaccine. It’s a massive step for the state to insist that people be vaccinated before accessing everyday services. It could be an id card by the back door. This absolutely must not go ahead until the people have had a chance to say in these elections. The best way to keep our country safe is to suppress the spread of the virus and vaccinate almost everyone.”

Scottish Lib Dems – Fraser Graham

Scottish National Party

“We need to ensure that what’s being done, not just within government but within police and within our wider society, absolutely is enshrined in our equality and our human rights approach, and our manifesto absolutely commits us to a robust scrutiny and oversight of that as we move forward. 

On vaccine passports, I’m inherently uncomfortable by it, and the First Minister has made clear, that that she’s not convinced at this point about the use of of vaccine passports, because of the ethical and human rights aspects around those who couldn’t, for example, access a service or access a place because they haven’t had their vaccine, and vaccines are not mandatory in Scotland and nor do we want them to be in the SNP, so how do we deal with those equalities and human rights  issues, and until we do I think there’s got to have to be some skepticism about how these would work. The area where they might work in the future is around some international travel, so we’ve seen examples in the past which some of us might have used when we’re traveling around certain countries, so there might be an aspect around international travel that’s slightly less controversial I think, but in the domestic setting I do have reservations around that, that we would need to be further tested, and absolutely do that with stakeholders to make sure that that they have their voice heard in this really controversial issue.”

SNP – Shirley-Anne Somerville

What ORG wants

  • The Digital Identity Scotland system will maintain its privacy by design approach, and its person-centred approach.
  • No central, unified ID database system will be built in Scotland.
  • There will be no data matching and tracking of individuals across data-sets by local authorities, Scottish Government, or commercial partners.
  • Digital Identity Scotland will maintain its commitment to open government approach inviting scrutiny and comment from across Scottish society.
  • If electronic vaccine passports are to be rolled out for general movement in Scotland it must first be underpinned with clear primary legislation protecting the right of privacy and upholding data protection standards.