MUST READ: While addressing Australians’ specifically, this warning is for ALL nations: Big Brother is Watching You..and probably reading this…!
Thanks to “J” for bringing this to our attention:
Illustration: Sturt Krygsman.
By Fergus Hanson 11:00PM October 22, 2018
Many of us are unaware a transformational digital initiative is about to involve every Australian: digital identity. Many are probably equally unaware of the problems with the approach, including the risk of a Western version of China’s social credit system that can effectively rank individuals and shape behaviour.
The new digital identity, known as GovPass, is the latest attempt to roll out a national identity scheme. Its forebears, the Hawke government’s Australia Card and the Howard government’s Access Card, fell over in the face of community backlash. GovPass, which is enabled by a new database of biometric templates that has been established for every Australian, makes them seem quaint.
In principle, a digital identity is not a bad idea. It is an essential microeconomic reform for a 21st century economy that has the potential to deliver significant productivity and efficiency gains.
It will allow you to quickly confirm your personal details, entitlements and authorisations, such as proving you are over 18 years, delegating the pick-up of prescriptions or automatically confirming your concession status.
It requires a one-off verification, for example, by photographing your driver’s licence with your phone (the details of which are then checked against the relevant government database) or, for higher level verification, taking a selfie (which is checked against a biometric template of your face that the government has collated).
This digital identity, stored on a mobile app, can be used to transact with government and companies (for example, by entering your phone number on their websites and providing permission to undertake the identity check via your digital identity mobile app) or in person without the need to carry a wallet and documents.
Like other government digitisation schemes, the problem is in the execution. As the general unawareness of this scheme indicates, communication has been wanting. The Digital Transformation Agency has issued regular updates on the progress of the GovPass scheme but, with few exceptions, these have passed almost unnoticed. Government polling suggests it’s right to be fearful of scaring the public: 69 per cent of Australians are more concerned about their online privacy than they were five years ago.
As with other recent digitisation initiatives, the scheme also threatens to erode our rights. Because of the way these schemes are approached — solving individual departmental challenges rather than trying to empower citizens — each new digitisation initiative forces people to trade off more of their rights for the convenience offered.
Repeatedly we’re assured that everything’s fine. Only, often it is not. Opt in can become opt out. What is said to be safe and secure might mean warrantless police access. Without an overhaul in approach, digital identity will see more unnecessary encroachment by government into our lives.
The shame is that, properly implemented, these initiatives could have the opposite effect.
Another problem with the present approach is that taxpayers are being asked to fund two competing schemes. The government allocated $92.4 million in the 2018-19 budget to create the infrastructure that will
underpin GovPass and fund its initial rollout. But Australia Post has spent up to $50m developing a digital identity scheme known as Digital iD that is up and running. It is accepted at licensed premises as proof of age and to confirm identity for online payments or to pick up parcels. Why two government schemes?
In any case, neither is governed by dedicated legislation, except for generic provisions like those in the Privacy Act. Given their sweeping applications and open questions on issues such as liability, potential for misuse and privacy concerns, there should be specific legislation for GovPass and Digital iD. Australia’s laissez-faire approach to digital identity means it has been identified by large multinationals as a potential testing ground forselling attributes on citizens that, without regulation, could leave us with our own social credit scheme. As we move to a world where identity can be confirmed easily and cheaply, it opens up the possibility of building up profiles of individuals like never before.
If digital identity becomes the de facto way to buy alcohol, log on to social media, purchase tickets and travel, all the data that those transactions collect (such as where you are, how much you spend, what you buy and what you look at) can be linked to an individual identity and sold (via your agreement) to a third-party profile builder. This happens to an extent via loyalty cards and online but digital identity will enable fullblown social credit schemes by confirming identity with great confidence.
The string of recent digitisation fails — the My Health Record opt-out debate and the census — points to a broader problem. To ensure these important initiatives succeed, we will need a 180-degree change in approach with fully empowered Australian citizens at its centre. The government should conduct a root-andbranch review of how privacy protections are going to operate in the 21st century.
This should include maintaining effective security baselines and rules for the use of data, regardless of who has custody of the information (the government or the private sector). The review should also look at reforms to provide us with easy and meaningful control over our data.
For digital identity itself, a major communications campaign is needed to explain the short and longer-term implications. GovPass and Digital iD need to be placed under legislative oversight and ideally should be joined to reduce duplication. And tighter regulation of the use of new biometric databases is needed to prevent likely overreach and resulting community backlash against a core enabling technology for digital identity.
Fergus Hanson’s report, Preventing Another Australia Card Fail, was released last week. He is head of the International Cyber Policy Centre based at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.