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Australia Post snaps-up facial biometrics

Australia Post has revealed it is about to add biometric facial recognition — like the scan used to unlock new iPhones rather than fingerprints — to its rapidly evolving DigitaliD solution.

To be made available as a soft launch from December, the addition of the new biometric authentication factor to Australia Post’s service means users will essentially be able to just look at their mobile handsets to unlock access to trusted and secure online services ranging from government transactions, banking to social media.

At a demonstration in Sydney on Tuesday, Australia Post’s general manager for DigitaliD and trusted eCommerce solutions, Cameron Gough, rolled a screen capture video of how the new iPhone X can prompt people to either use or sign-up for Digital iD™ when identity verification is required. (It worked much better than Apple’s initial live launch.)

Assuming consumer uptake is successful, Australia Post’s secure selfie service will eventually be capable of higher level identity assurance and verification — those where photo ID is now physically required — by cross checking facial scans with the Commonwealth’s new Facial Verification Service (FVS).

(The FVS is slated to commence in 2018 and will be able to do one-to-one face matches across passports, driver’s licences, citizenship, visa or other authorised government biometric facial photographic records.)

Candid camera

The addition of a user submitted and controlled facial verification offers a potentially huge efficiency for businesses and government agencies online that currently struggle with the legacy of the clunky ‘100 points’ test.

Put simply, when you need to front ID you’ll soon be able to snap your documents and yourself and send them in all from your phone without heading into an office or branch.

That’s certain to have big appeal to government services requiring ID, as well as banks, utilities and any other business subject to ‘know your customer’ regulations.

Australia Post has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the Digital Transformation Agency to make DigitaliD part of the federal government’s Trusted Identity Framework.

Whether it can thaw the frosty relationship between Apple and three of Australia’s ‘Big Four’ banks is another question.

The new facial functionality works by running run a ‘likeness’ scan to verify the person holding the phone is who they claim to be. The scan will also be authenticated by Australia Post’s back-end rather than relying on propriety handset software or algorithms.

Facing-up to efficiency

Gough said that as websites and online services asked for “more and more about you”, the level of user friction goes up. So too does the value of digital identity because of its ability to eliminate or reduce friction in a trusted and user controlled way.

The benefit to the Australian economy of reducing identity friction has been estimated by Australia Post and Boston Consulting Group to be worth around $11 billion.

In the case of Android users, the face checking feature of Digital iD™ will be able to cross check machine-readable data held on chips in Australian passports.

While Apple is heavily pushing facial recognition, the settings on the iPhone’s NFC (near field communications) chips still don’t typically allow the device to grab data from a ‘tap’ as opposed to spitting it out.

Consent by design

Gough also reaffirmed Australia Post’s overtly strong stand on user control and privacy enhancing technology when it comes to digital identity. Some government agencies may have struggled with the 1980s ghost of Bob Hawke’s Australia Card, but Post isn’t one of them.

“We don’t have in this system the idea of a single identifier.” Gough said frankly. “So there’s no DigitaliD number. You won’t get people saying ‘what’s your DigitaliD number’?”

“Government is wanting choice and we are very pro that as well, Gough said.

“No one is forced to have this, this is purely optional. We want this to be wanted by consumers because it makes their life easier. This is not something we want to be forced on consumers. We don’t want organisations saying ‘you must have this’.

Author Bio

Julian Bajkowski

Julian Bajkowski is an award-winning journalist, editor and adviser who specialises in explaining developments in business, technology, policy and finance. Prior to becoming managing editor of The Mandarin, he worked in senior editorial roles at the Australian Financial Review, ACP, IDG and the Intermedia Group, and has been a public policy and corporate affairs adviser at MasterCard.