Digital identity laws pass Parliament

Australia’s digital identity scheme will expand economy-wide after long-awaited legislation designed to stop the oversharing of sensitive personal information passed federal Parliament.

The laws mark a major step forward for identity verification in Australia, with the system that has been a decade in the making also expected to provide new avenues for people to access services online.

It comes just days after the government revealed another $288.1 million for the scheme in the federal Budget, with its total funding now topping $1 billion over the decade.

Image: Vesalainen

The Digital ID Bill sailed through Parliament on Wednesday with the support of the crossbench, paving the way for the expansion of the scheme to states and territory governments later this year.

The private sector will be invited to participate within two years thanks to amendments agreed to by the government to secure the bill’s passage through the Senate without the support of the Coalition in March.

Other changes secured by the Greens ensure businesses provide comparable non-digital options for services where access is offered through the Australian Government Digital ID System (AGDIS).

No new amendments were proposed or agreed to ahead of the bill’s passage on Thursday, with the Coalition again opposing the scheme that was first set up at the request of then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The Coalition’s opposition to the bill is largely due to the phased approach of the rollout, which means the private sector won’t be able to offer identity services at the same time as the state and territory governments.

Shadow minister for government services and the digital economy Paul Fletcher on Wednesday said that while amendments in the Senate had improved the bill, there was still “considerable uncertainty” about how the scheme will work.

He said that with private digital identity providers like the ConnectID system already gaining traction there is a risk the digital identity landscape becomes “fragmented” and makes the AGDIS a “poorer cousin of private sector solutions”.

First introduced to Parliament in November, the Digital ID Bill enshrines in law the privacy safeguards and governance structures behind the AGDIS, which been operation at a federal government level since 2019.

It will allow Australians to use credentials, such as passports, birth certificates and driver’s licences, to verify their identity online, reducing the information held by businesses and, therefore, the seriousness of any data breaches.

At present, only one identity credential – the Australian Taxation Office’s myGovID – is available for use with federal government digital services and Western Australia’s ServiceWA app.

More than 12 million Australians already have a myGovID, with almost nine million verified against passports and other identity documents. Around half of those with myGovID have also performed a one-off face verification.

Finance minister Katy Gallagher has previously said that an expanded AGDIS could be in place as soon as the middle of this year. State and territory government-operated digital IDs will become the first to gain access to Commonwealth services and vice versa.

The government has already introduced laws for the facial verification systems that underpin the AGDIS. That legislation also bans police from using the government-operated systems from conducting one-to-many matches.

Ahead of this week’s Budget, the federal government announced a further $288.1 million for the digital identity program in order to run pilots and beef up infrastructure, regulation and security.

Total funding for the scheme, which also received a $145.5 million top up in Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook at the end of last year, has now topped $1 billion over a decade.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

1 Comment
  1. 2 weeks ago

    It’s not a digital identity system — it’s a digital ID system.
    The words matter a lot.
    “Identity” is abstract, and “digital identity” especially is ill-defined, novel and liable to be confused with national identity especially when handled by government.
    But “ID” is concrete and familiar. When asked to show some ID, everyone knows what that means in context.
    The Digital ID Bill is being misinterpreted and misconstrued all over the place when it’s a really simple proposition. It’s a governance regime for improved digitization of real world IDs.
    That’s all we really need to solve the scourge of “identity crime”. Fraudulent identification actually has nothing to do with identity. It’s about weak handling of ID data especially ID numbers.
    If under the Digital ID system we simply move to non-replayable online versions of driver licences, birth certificates, social security numbers, trade licenses and so on, the impact on fraud and efficiency will be profound.
    We need to keep Digital ID simple and ‘small’.
    It’s not about identity. The old phrase “digital identity” is no longer used in the bill or in the budget papers.
    We need to describe this thing properly so people start to think about it clearly.

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