Policy report

Preventing another Australia Card fail: unlocking the potential of digital identity

18 Oct 2018

Another major government digitisation scheme - digital identity - is set to cause controversy and risk further disempowering Australians in the absence of clearer policy and legislative controls. That’s problematic because digital identity has the potential to power the 21st-century economy, society and government by providing easy, high-confidence verification of identity that will allow millions of offline transactions to move online and enable a string of enhanced services, such as easy delegation of authority (for example, to pick up prescriptions) and verifications (such as proof of age online).

However, the national digital identity program, known as GovPass, faces obstacles on multiple fronts:

Public communication about the scheme and its implications has been wanting, leaving the public largely unaware of the change afoot.

A key biometric enabling service for digital identity, the Face Verification Service (FVS), risks being conflated with the far-reaching law enforcement biometric enabler—the Face Identification Service (FIS)—that’s part of the same national facial biometric matching capability agreed to by Australian Government and state and territory government leaders in October 2017. The FIS lacks adequate safeguards and in its current form is likely to attract public opposition far exceeding that directed towards the My Health Record scheme.

The government is now building two digital identity schemes that will compete against each other. The first, which is already operational, was built by Australia Post at a cost of $30–50 million and is known as Digital iD. The second scheme, GovPass, secured $92.4 million in the 2018–19 Budget to create the infrastructure that will underpin it and fund its initial rollout.

Neither GovPass nor Digital iD is governed by dedicated legislation, beyond existing laws such as the inadequate Privacy Act 1988, leaving Australians vulnerable to having their data misused.

The lack of clarity about how the private sector will and will not be able to use the schemes will turbocharge the ability to gather detailed profiles of individual Australians. Controls are needed to prevent a Western version of China’s ‘social credit’ scheme emerging.

*Please note - the Australian government's Digital Transformation Agency issued this statement on their website shortly after this publication was made available on the ASPI website.

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Policy Brief report no.9/2018
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