Australia Post is now considered a trusted provider of a digital proof-of-identity service under the framework administered by the federal Digital Transformation Agency, two years after introducing its Digital iD service.
The self-funded government business enterprise became the second digital identity service provider to receive the trust-mark this week, with the Digital iD system joining the Commonwealth’s own myGovID product, which is in a trial phase.
Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert emphasised that the Commonwealth envisages a “digital identity federation”, with a choice between multiple options for Australians to prove who they are over the internet.
“In the future, we look forward to having many government agencies, banks, or other organisations undergo accreditation to become part of the identity system,” Robert said.
The TDIF sets rules and requirements for participants in that federation in terms of privacy, safety and security.
“This makes sure every government agency and organisation that becomes part of the identity system is held to the same high standards,” the minister said.
The myGovID system received $67.2 million in this year’s budget to fund integration with the pre-existing myGov website and the expansion of trials, on top of $92m allocated to the project the previous year. The government has approached digital identity with abundant caution and has inevitably attracted criticism from those who suspect any such system could be used as a form of public surveillance.
Fergus Hanson, lead cyber security policy researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, argued last year that forays into digital identity by both Australia Post and the public service represented a huge political risk due to these fears. The DTA hit back, arguing his assessment ignored its technical efforts to build a system that preserves the privacy of citizens.
The minister said accreditation of a second trusted provider of a digital identity verification service was as an important step towards “a true whole-of-economy solution” and a new version of the trust framework would be published at the end of 2019.
There will be a focus on “optimising the opportunity for interoperability across the broader economy” in the fourth iteration of the TDIF, according to his statement.
“Providing Australians with choice and control of who they share identity information with was one of the recommendations of the Financial Services Inquiry that we have delivered on,” Robert added.
A fumbling foray into facial recognition
Meanwhile in Victoria, the government began rolling out a smartphone-based digital identity verification system on July 1 and hopes to have it accredited under the TDIF as well. But its first trial is not going so well.
People applying for solar rebates were asked to use the system run by Service Victoria instead of the regular 100-point identity check but ran quickly into trouble. The Age reported 40% users were unable to verify themselves through facial recognition using the “public beta” version in the first two weeks of July.
The article told of frustrated customers struggling to use the digital identity system, and being afraid they would lose their place in a waiting list for one of the limited pool of rebates if they did not finish the application within 14 days.
Part of the process involves scanning a passport and driver’s licence, and this reportedly led to minimal user-testing, with fewer than 60 people testing the prototype.
Solar Victoria began providing additional information an posted an instructional video but the backlash grew and soon the solar-energy industry was aflame with outrage. The government had put the subsidies on hold for three months in April, and has capped the number available — hence the waiting list and the anxious homeowners hoping to snap up a sunny discount.
The Smart Energy Council, which represents the industry that benefits from the subsidies, is extremely aggrieved, and even organised a rally outside state parliament to protest. Its enraged CEO John Grimes told InnovationAus that it was a case study in how not to introduce new technology.
“The solar program is probably the worst program you could’ve chosen – it’s skewed towards older people and really low income people,” he said.