Rachel Dixon, the head of the Federal Government’s digital identity project has resigned, leaving the Digital Transformation Agency seeking a replacement just as the initiative enters a crucial stage.
The Government is currently running a private beta of the digital identity platform – dubbed GovPass – ahead of a planned public test early next year.
On Friday Australia Post announced that it was working with the Federal Government to integrate its own identity technology with the Commonwealth’s GovPass platform.
Australia Post CEO and managing director Ahmed Fahour said that a service such as Australia Post’s Digital ID could be used to help Australians connect with government departments and services, such as health and community services.
Ms Dixon resigned from the DTA on the same day (19 May), and left the Agency on Wednesday (24 May).
While she demonstrated the latest version of GovPass to assistant minister for cities and digital transformation, Angus Taylor, Ms Dixon has in recent months taken a lower public profile. Drew Andison, DTA’s policy lead for Govpass, has recently taken the lead in terms of public commentary about the project.
Ms Dixon told InnovationAus.com; “I resigned last Friday, my last day is today. DTA will be looking for someone to replace me.
“I’ve been very pleased to be involved with a wonderful team working for me here at the DTA – they’ve done some really wonderful work in this space and I think the model they’ve hit upon for the Federation is something that can finally succeed.
“I’m looking forward to some sunshine and coffee.”
While GovPass is one of the flagship programs underway at the DTA, during his first appearance in front of Senate Estimates this week, the Digital Transformation Agency’s recently appointed CEO, Gavin Slater, made only passing reference to the project.
He noted that the DTA was continuing to work with government agencies and private sector companies on the project.
“Our next phase of work on this project includes testing the technology we’ve been developing with selected users, and continuing to consult with our government and private sector stakeholders, including on privacy matters.”
The news of Ms Dixon’s resignation emerged only after Senate Estimates had concluded – however questions about the Agency’s structure and staffing were raised during the meeting.
Committee members asked Mr Slater if there was an up to date DTA organisation chart available, he said there was – but that he did not have the document to hand and would supply it subsequently.
Shadow minister for the digital economy Ed Husic came out swinging after the news of Ms Dixon’s resignation emerged after DTA’s Senate Estimates appearance had concluded, describing it as a “nifty sidestep”.
“Assistant Minister Angus Taylor has some explaining to do after the head of the Digital Transformation Agency’s digital identity project resigned, but the news was only made public after Senate Estimates hearings were held.
“Questions have frequently been asked about why the Turnbull Government has been unable to deliver a solid digital identity project. Now a key figure involved in the project has departed, and the news helpfully emerged after Senate Estimates.”
While the personalities leading the project may have changed, it continues to roll ahead.
In the past the DTA flagged a potential role for Australia’s banks as part of the GovPass federated digital identity initiative. Australia Post however has now stepped into the limelight.
Speaking at the CeBIT conference in Sydney this week, Regis Bauchiere, general manager, digital identity services and trusted ecommerce solutions for Australia Post, detailed the organisation’s ambitions for its identity platform.
He referenced a study conducted for Australia Post which indicated that “solving digital identity friction will unlock $11 billion of economic value each year for Australian consumers, business and government.”
A number of federal, state and territory Government services already leverage Australia Post’s information systems and ability to capture biometric data in the form of passport photos, he said.
Mr Bauchiere said that 800 of the 4,400 Australia Post outlets around Australia could capture biometrics – 400 of them in Victoria where the organisation manages the State’s Working with Children Check.
Biometrics are a key element of GovPass, with the DTA planning to use the Facial Verification Service to confirm the identities of users.
Australia Post, like the DTA and Minister Taylor, believes that digital identity platforms should be opt in by consumers, and also that physical identity checks should always be made available as an alternative.
People wanting to use Australia Post’s digital identity service would use a smartphone and yet to be released app he said.
The smartphone could capture a biometric to verify identity, but also provide access to other functions such as NFC to facilitate payments, a video chat facility, and optical character recognition to scan documents.
For agencies or organisations which wanted to include the digital identity service Mr Bauchiere said it was “easy to integrate because it is a platform that is API driven and embedding digital identification verification is like integrating a Facebook connect button.”
Asked about the digital identity partnership with the Federal Government Mr Bauchiere said “GovPass is intended to be a hub which will integrate with an identity provider.
“People want choice and maybe they want choice about the provider.”