The federal government’s protracted journey towards providing Australians with a Commonwealth minted digital identity credential has moved a significant step closer to becoming a reality following the announcement of a partnership between Australia Post and the Digital Transformation Agency.
Announced by Australia Post on Friday, the collaboration will see the government-owned retail and logistics juggernaut “work with the Digital Transformation Agency to integrate its own identity technology into the Commonwealth’s Digital Identity Framework.”
The announcement that Post is now working directly with DTA towards incorporating its own nascent digital identity product effectively closes the loop on long-running uncertainty over whether DTA’s digital identity products and services would interoperate with Australia Post’s development.
Australia Post managing director and group CEO, Ahmed Fahour, said the partnership reinforcedAustralia Post’s commitment to helping people connect to important government services such as health and community services.
“Our new Digital iD™ platform provides Australians with greater choice and control in how they prove their identity online,” Mr Fahour said.
Fahour said there were millions of interactions with government and private sector organisations each year that are time consuming because they required people to produce at least two or more forms of ID to prove who they are.
Post is targeting what it calls “identity friction” in the economy, which the organisation says can be addressed by using an opt-in digital identity solution that consumers can use across multiple government jurisdictions and also transactions with businesses.
“Our research shows these processes cost the Australian economy up to $11 billion a year in proving identity alone, and can be unlocked by making it easy, safe and secure to prove that you are who you say you are when interacting online,” Fahour said.
The issue of what Australia’s broader digital identity landscape, especially on the government side, will ultimately look like has been a conspicuously open question since the Digital Transformation Office and subsequently the DTA announced plans to tackle the issue by minting their own credential across federal agencies.
Earlier this year the DTA downshifted on the DTO’s initial idea of building a ‘digital identity’ per se and rebadged the concept as GovPass which is being pitched as an enabler for verified transactions across federal agencies.
This said there, has always been broad support for a federated digital identity model at the federal level despite visible trepidation over the potential for antagonists to resurrect the ghosts of Bob Hawke’s ill fated Australia Card and Joe Hockey’s abandoned Access Card.
Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor said streamlining digital identities would create “countless benefits”.
“In the GovPass project we are using technology to do what people have done at government shop fronts for decades. But by doing it online, it’s easier, cheaper and more secure, Taylor said.
Taylor and the DTA are also clearly moving towards increased consumer mobility and choice in switching between commercial businesses and utilities as a consumer sell for the project – assuming the DTA can pull it off.
“If we get this right, you won’t need 20 usernames and passwords to access your services, and you’ll be able to switch banks, telcos, utilities and other services with the click of a button,” Taylor said.
“In time, this won’t just improve government delivery, it will unleash a new round of competitiveness across the economy, as transactions become frictionless.”
One of the DTAs biggest challenges on the digital identity front has been coming up with a solution that the public will both accept and embrace as sufficiently private and secure but that will have sufficient scale and interoperability to make it useful.
While the retail sell to the electorate will be around making services from Australia’s biggest businesses – banks and utilities — more contestable, in reality businesses that are roped in by the antiquated 100 Points identity verification regime laid down by the Commonwealth have been demanding an electronic, internet enabled solution for more than a decade.
Compliance costs around identity verification have been a persistent sore point for regulated businesses, with the wholesale price of an electronic document verification transaction understood to be around $1.00 before other administration costs are taken into account.
Faced with an imploding letters business, Australia Post has quietly staked out the national identity services market for years, using its massive national retail network as a strategic advantage when offering government and business outsourced transaction and identity services that range from passports and police checks to over the counter bill payments in cash.
The arena many in government and industry will now be watching is whether the DTA will be able to leverage Post’s ability to tap into state and local government transactions using an identity credential that goes beyond the Commonwealth agencies.
Many are hoping it will.