Landmark digital identity laws clear Senate

Australia’s digital identity scheme is set to expand beyond the federal government to states and territories and the private sector after a landmark bill, first drafted more than three years ago, passed the Senate.

The Digital ID Bill sailed through the upper house on Wednesday evening with the support of the Greens, the Jacqui Lambie Party and a handful of independent senators, who backed the amendments circulated by the government on Tuesday.

Amendments put forward by the Greens that work to make the bill “genuinely voluntary” were also agreed to by the government and will require that businesses offer comparable non-digital services for services that use digital ID.

Changes to allow the private sector to participate in the Australian Government Digital ID System (AGDIS) within two years of the bill’s passage failed to secure the support of the Opposition, however.

The phased approach was a major sticking point for the Coalition, which described the originally phased roll out as a “big government approach which centralises Digital ID in government hands” and recommended the private sector gain access from the get-go.

Banks, payment providers and the main business and tech lobby groups had argued during a Senate inquiry that they should gain access to the AGDIS at the same time as state and territory governments to prevent market distortions and restricted choice.

But the Coalition ultimately sided with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation to vote against the legislation, despite drafting an earlier version of the bill that was never brought on for debate when it was in government.

Other amendments to the bill that passed include new reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies that lawfully access biometric and non-biometric information during investigations, to address concerns from the Greens.

Greens senator David Shoebridge said the amendments secured by the Greens “make the new Digital ID genuinely voluntary, putting in place a clear obligation for service providers to have a comparable non-digital service available”.

“Of course you shouldn’t be forced to use a digital ID and the bill now reflects this,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The bill’s passage through the Senate follows three years of work by the Digital Transformation Agency and, more recently, the Department of Finance, which assumed responsibility for the work in the months leading up to the introduction of the legislation last year.

The DTA’s predecessor, the Digital Transformation Office, was given the task of solving the digital identity hurdle when it was established by Mr Turnbull in 2015.

The Digital ID Bill, introduced to Parliament in November, enshrines in law the privacy safeguards and governance structures behind the AGDIS, which will now be expanded to the state and territory governments.

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 Tax Office’s myGovID – is available for use with government services. More than 10.5 million Australians already have a myGovID, with a chunk of these created as a result of the director ID scheme.

Finance minister Katy Gallagher on Wednesday said “digital ID will make it safer and easier for Australians to prove who they are online”, with the legislative framework for the expansion of the scheme a step closer to being in place.

“Australians will be sharing less personal information, which is held by fewer organisations, that are subject to stronger regulation – reducing the chance of identity theft online,” she said in a statement.

Australian Payments Plus, which is one of only a handful of private providers with a Trusted Digital Identity Framework accredited identity service, and the Australian Banking Association welcomed passage of the bill.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

1 Comment
  1. 4 months ago

    I know the Australia Card casts a long shadow, and I know “digital identity” has been a rallying call ever since the 1993 Internet Dog cartoon, but the Digital ID Bill in front of us is not “Australia’s digital identity scheme”. The legislation doesn’t even use the language “digital identity” anymore.
    The Bill represents a major pivot. While “myGov” is set to continue as a federal government single sign on scheme, the Digital ID System is different. It creates a governance system for digitising IDs. This is what Australia needs to combat digital impersonation: more robust identification using better ways to digitally present existing IDs.
    The Digital ID Bill and system is all about conserving the many IDs we are familiar with, and improving the way they are used online. It does not introduce any new identity and it does not change the customary elements of identification.

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