Australia’s digital and data ministers will convene to discuss the federal government’s digital identity system in the wake of the Optus data breach, as legislation for the expansion of the scheme remains missing after two years of consultation.
After a six-month hiatus, the first meeting of the Digital and Data Ministers’ Meeting since the election is scheduled to take place in November, with Finance minister Katy Gallagher as chair.
It will be only the third meeting this year, whereas eight meetings were held in 2021 and a further seven meetings were convened in 2020. The Digital and Data Ministers’ Meeting started life as the Australian Digital Council in September 2018.
Minister Gallagher told InnovationAus.com the meeting will focus on “how we can ensure that Australians can access safe, secure and trusted government services online”, including the digital identity system.
Digital identity has new currency for the government following the Optus data breach that exposed the personal information of 9.8 million customers.
Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has confirmed the breach is Australia’s largest since the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme was introduced in 2018.
Optus chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin on Monday said investigations had revealed at least one number from a current and valid form of identification was exposed for 1.2 million customers.
A further 900,000 had numbers relating to expired ID’s compromised, in addition to the 7.1 million that had some personal information stolen.
Optus has now commissioned an independent review of the breach, with consulting giant Deloitte to “undertake a forensic assessment of the cyber-attack and the circumstances surrounding it”.
The breach has highlighted problems with data collection practices, namely the need for governments and businesses to collect credentials to verify a person’s identity.
The government has spent the past seven years developing a digital identity system for citizens to interact with federal services and – in future – other state and territory and private sector services.
Using a “double blind”, the system allows identity providers to vouch for a person when they transact with third-parties services without revealing that individual’s single identity credential.
However, despite setting aside $600 million, the scheme has stalled due to delays with legislation that would expand the scheme beyond the myGovID credential and enshrine privacy protections.
The former Coalition government failed to introduce the digital identity legislation before Parliament was prorogued for the May election, despite originally planning to do so last year.
The legislation, which the Digital Transformation Agency began consulting on in October 2021, is believed to still be at draft stage.
Minister Gallagher said the digital identity system – and the underpinning legislation – was on the meeting’s agenda but offered no timeframe for when the legislation might be introduced.
“[The system] has been designed to protect the privacy of Australians and minimises the amount of personal information shared across services and is protected by strict security protocols,” she said.
“The further development of the Australian Government digital identity system will improve on the safeguards that already exist to protect the personal information of all Australians.”
Digital ministers have previously agreed to “actively explore”, “discuss opportunities” for and “work towards” a digital identity system, according to previous communiqué’s from the meeting.
The planned talks come as New South Wales government pushes ahead with its vision for decentralised credentials, including a digital wallet that give citizens control of their digital identity.
The first verifiable credential – the digital birth certificate, the development of which the state government is leading on behalf of Australia – is now expected to be piloted in December.
The government went down the path of decentralised, verifiable credentials after ditching plans to adopt a ‘copy solution’ for the state’s digital driver’s licence (DDL).
“Ultimately, a paper copy of the DDL is not an end-to-end digital product … a copy solution is a paper sandwich,” New South Wales Digital Government minister Victor Dominello said in October 2020.
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