First wave of digital licences still face privacy, flat battery conundrum


New South Wales issues more than 120 different types of competency licences, and now three of them are digitally available via the Service NSW phone app.

On Sunday, New South Wales’ Baird government announced what are believed to be Australia’s first digital licences, covering recreational fishing, responsible service of alcohol and responsible conduct of gambling.

Of course, the real challenge will be digital driver’s licences, affecting millions of Australian residents. At least three state governments are in competition to be the first to release a digital driver’s licence, but NSW could to be the first to get there — sometime in 2019, it estimates — now that it has a viable platform and can work out the kinks with these first three licence types.

Several challenges have already arisen. First, privacy and motoring lobbying groups like the NRMA were concerned about users being required to unlock and hand over the full contents of their phones to police at checks.

The other challenge is the bane of all mobile users: limited phone battery. Despite the best efforts of researchers, the technological progress of batteries has stalled. With ever-increasing smart phone usage, many users still can’t get through a full day without a recharge.

But for regulators and law enforcement, is it appropriate to fine licence-holders if the platform that holds their paperwork can’t be relied upon?

When the plan was first announced last year, NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property Dominic Perrottet stated that there would be no fines to drivers for a flat battery. Also, the digital licences are optional, as a user can stick with existing physical licences.

This week the government clarified, in relation to the three new digital licences for fishing, liquor and gambling, that it will be up to users to ensure they can access the app:

“While users who choose to carry only a digital version of their licence must ensure their device remains charged and accessible, digital licences can be accessed on another smartphone or tablet by securely signing into the Service NSW App.”

NSW has also been working on a companion app for police and regulators to check the validity of the information they are shown.

Licence data is stored in the user’s MyServiceNSW account, hosted in the NSW government’s datacentre, GovDC.

For Perrottet, this is all about making life easier, with these three licences just the beginning.

“If you carry a smartphone in your pocket and you’re looking forward to a wallet-free future, digital licences make so much sense — they’re easily accessible, safe and secure, and it’s one less thing to stuff in your wallet. You can renew your licence and update your details with the click of a button, and there’s no need to visit a Service NSW centre or wait for something in the post.”

That could save the NSW taxpayer too, with some 2.8 million plastic cards printed by the state each year.

Service NSW was also the first Australian state service provider to implement contactless ‘digital wallet’ payment methods, such as Android Pay.

Victoria and South Australia have also announced they are working towards a digital driver’s licence.

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