Dominello’s swan song: Digital ID our ‘Holy Grail’


Outgoing NSW digital minister Victor Dominello has used his last ministerial address to champion the state’s forthcoming decentralised digital identity system as a lever for “huge micro-economic reform”.

Mr Dominello, who will leave politics after more than 14 years at this month’s state election, said the time has come for Australia to grow a “digital spine” after relying on drivers licences, Medicare cards and birth certificates as “de facto” IDs.

He said these physical documents were no longer “fit for purpose in the data age”, pointing to the privacy risks posed by businesses that store copies of credentials, as highlighted by the Optus and Medibank data breaches last year.

“What Australia needs is basically to grow a backbone – and that’s a digital spine, and that digital spine isn’t a typical… spine. It looks more like a double helix because Australia’s a federation,” he told an event held by the Tech Council of Australia on Thursday morning.

NSW Minister for Customer Service and Minister for Digital Government Victor Dominello

Mr Dominello said the double helix would consist of “two siderails”: the federal government’s myGov and a separate platform operated by each state and territory – in the case of New South Wales, the NSW Digital ID.

Credentials like driver’s licences, passports and veterans cards would then form the “rungs” between the siderails, the minister said, explaining the significance of agreement between digital ministers last week to expand the national identity system to include credentials.

“That rung is dovetailed into the siderail. Its all-in-one app. You don’t have to muck around going from one app to another and navigating,” he said.

Mr Dominello said this meant the user experience for citizens in NSW Digital ID and across other platforms would be seamless, unlike the My Health Record app launched on Thursday, which he criticised as difficult to set up.

“I downloaded the My Health Record [app]. Great app, very silky smooth… but to get there you had to change windows and muck around with passwords. So it’s just not a great setup experience,” he said.

NSW Digital ID is the result of four years of work, which accelerated in the last two years on one of three horizons to respond to the need for a secure, privacy-enhancing method of verifying identity.

Dominello described the system – which is not yet live – as “world leading”, with only a handful of other places working to develop a truly decentralised platform, including the Flanders region in Belgium.

He provided a walkthrough of the user experience, showing that users will be required to provide three forms of identity, such as passport, driver’s licence and birth certificate, which are held by agencies at both a federal and state level.

Much like the myGovID credential, users will also be required to take a selfie and conduct a one-to-one match of their image against a file photo. Once the person’s identity has been verified, the image is discarded.

“This is not 10 years away, this is here. We’ve got 100 people on [one] pilot. We have built trust architecture, privacy, security, ethics, transparency… and we’ll continue to build that out. This has to be trusted,” Mr Dominello said.

Should it be returned at the upcoming election, the government is planning to introduce legislation later this year to rollout the system, though the Opposition has also indicated its support for digital identity.

“By this time next year, we will start seeing a whole lot of this start radiating out… into industry. This is unquestionability the Holy Grail. This will take the hard edge off cyber… It also makes sure that when it comes to service delivery that the customer is truly in control,” Mr Dominello said.

He also said that while digital identity is initially a G2C [government to consumer] play, it is “huge micro-economic reform” that will quickly become a “G2B [government to business] play, a B2B [business to business] play, a B2C [business to consumer] play”.

As he prepares to hang up his boots, Mr Dominello said he was most proud of the “huge uplift” in NSW’s digital maturity during his time as minister, with the state “at least seven or eight years ahead of the other states and territories”.

Collaboration between agencies on projects like NSW Digital ID is another source of pride, with the outgoing minister commenting that this is “really hard inside of government” due to the design of agencies and their siloed focus.

Asked of his next steps, Mr Dominello said he plans “some scuba diving” and has also been approached by a number of universities, but he hopes to wind up doing something in the tech sector rather than a return to his pre-political legal career.

“In law you can change one person at a time. Even if you have a case that goes to the Supreme Court or High Court you create a precedent that might change a number of lives. But in the tech sector, you change profoundly at speed, en masse. It is just so rewarding,” he said.

As reported by InnovationAus.com, Mr Dominello and federal Government Services Minister Bill Shorten have been in quiet talks about a potential national role in coordinating federal and state government digital service delivery efforts.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

3 Comments
  1. Cyrus Lesser 1 month ago
    Reply

    Dominello is a visionary. Cybercrime would drop to a fraction of what it is if his vision were implemented. The default would be that emails are signed, documents digitally signed, privacy enhanced. And with a public key lookup table the missing “I” in PKI would complete the picture!

    • Digital Koolaid 1 month ago
      Reply

      Hi Cyrus. Is there really a connection between signing and privacy? How does an email stop cybercrime (whatever that is). What’s Victor’s “vision” that has made him a visionary? There are pieces of the hagiography missing. Let’s fill them in together. (Did you see that DocuSign does digital signatures? Check out hxxps://www.docusign.com/products/electronic-signature/).

  2. Digital Koolaid 1 month ago
    Reply

    Victor is a lawyer. There’s no micro-economics subjects in his academic record. That’s why he gets it so wrong. He’s not a mathematician either, and a double helix isn’t his thing. He’s not a cabinet-maker and doesn’t do dovetails. Could we ask Vic when it became the responsibility of the state to issue / validate / secure a thing called “Digital ID”. I can’t remember anyone asking. It sort of popped up and never got questioned. I question it. I think the state has no responsibility for identity. Now apparently it’s bi-partisan politics. Whoever you vote for you get the Australian Barcode, dovetail-helixed with a NSW Barcode. Why would your barcode(s) be a G2B [government to business] “play”; I love those hip VC terms. What do Australians’ barcodes have to do with a B2B [business to business] “play”. Oh, now I get it – it’s a B2C [business to consumer] “play”. Taxpayers pay for an ID system that business uses for free. That’s the microeconomic reform – lower costs give higher profits. The old accounting equation at work. Revenues – Expenditures = Private Profit. It’s a shame Vic won’t go back to the law where he is actually qualified. Bye Vic. Miss ya already.

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