Pumping the brakes on the digital ID scheme

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The Opposition has called on the government to pump the brake on its digital identity program and ensure it has the basics right before plowing ahead with new legislation and rapid expansion.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is leading the federal government’s overarching digital identity play, dubbed GovPasss. The scheme aims to create a whole-of-government way to verify identity across governments and the private sector, with an end goal of creating a federated ecosystem of identity providers and services.

This goal is still some way off, with only two digital identity providers accredited by the government, and both being government driven projects – one from the ATO and the other Australia Post.

Digital ID
Digital ID: Labor dissenters want government to hasten slowly to get ID right

The Coalition plans to introduce legislation to Parliament which would allow GovPass to be extended to the private sector, with companies to be accredited under the scheme, and users able to use digital identity for private sector services.

The GovPass program has so far cost more than $200 million across five years.

In its interim report tabled this week, the government-led Select Committee on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology recommended the government “accelerate” its digital identity reforms and bring forward new legislation for it “as quickly as possible”.

“The committee considers that continuing and accelerating this program of work is of great importance as Australia emerges from the COVID-19 crisis. These reforms will deliver significant time and cost savings to individuals and businesses, as well as creating opportunities for innovative FinTechs and others working in the digital identity space,” the committee’s interim report said.

“The committee urges that legislative work being developed by the DTA be brought forward as quickly as possible by government, in consultation with states and territories through the Digital Economy and Technology Ministers’ Forum.”

But in a dissenting report, the two Labor Senators on the committee – Senator Marielle Smith and Senator Jess Walsh – rejected this recommendation, saying there have been “considerable delays” to the program, with a number of program deliverables “remaining outstanding”.

Instead the government should look to get the basic infrastructure right before accelerating its plans, Labor said.

“While we support improvements to the government-owned and operated digital identity platform, and strongly support the extension of those learnings to the private sector where appropriate, we believe there is clearly a lot more work to be done to build the infrastructure, as well as educating the public on what these reforms look like,” the Labor Senators said.

“Prioritising expediency over care isn’t the best way to achieve this.”

The government pointed to considerable delays with the project, including plans to have the ATO’s myGovID service fully up and running by the end of the 2019-20 financial year, integration with myGov, the introduction of facial recognition technology, accreditation of private sector companies and a public awareness campaign.

The DTA had planned to integrate myGovID with myGov by the end of the last financial year, replacing the existing two-factor authentication, but this deadline was missed after a private beta uncovered a number of technical issues.

There were also plans to conduct testing of the facial recognition aspect of GovPass in “mid-2020”, but the DTA recently confirmed that it is yet to select a vendor to provide the software for this.

The DTA is planning to soon roll out a public awareness campaign for the digital identity program, listing an opportunity on the Digital Marketplace for digital identity communication and engagement.

In the dissenting report, the Labor Senators also raised concerns with how the DTA consults with the tech sector.

“We are concerned about reports that the DTA don’t consult well with the broader tech community. Reports from the tech community on the rollout of the COVIDSafe app is that constructive feedback wasn’t sought early enough, that it was difficult to find the avenues to provide it, and that it was sat on or ignored for long periods of time,” they said.

“We encourage the DTA to improve these relationships for future partnerships to ensure a robust dialogue and engagement going forward.”

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