BT yesterday demonstrated concept web services, including an identity checking product that it predicts will be the "ubiquitous verification service for business and government".

The service, called Uru, was jointly developed by BT and software company BG Group. It takes the identification details provided by an individual and compares them to a range of databases, including UK registers of names and addresses, death registers, the national telephone directory services database and the Meter Point Asset Number database maintained by the UK electricity companies.

Uru is currently CD-based but an online version is set for launch too.

The Uru service works by asking customers to provide several forms of identification that, used alone, could easily be forged. Armed with more indepth information it can quickly check whether an individual is who he or she says they are and whether they really live where they claim.

"Existing systems used in the UK 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 cheque book," said BG group chief executive Richard Law.

Uru does not disclose personal information. Instead, it checks that the information provided is correct.

There are over two billion authentication transactions taking place every year in the UK, most of them in the financial, retail and government 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 UK Passport Office about putting its information in the public domain as well as to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) and Inland Revenue.

"I predict that in 10 years time, 90 percent of identity checks will be done this way," said Law.

The UK government has over 100,000 databases, in a very fragmented system, and is looking to make the information more useful, Law said. If, for example, digital certification is to work, 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.

"So we believe we're poised to grab that market," he added.