The prospect of a new form of digital identity verification may not seem exciting in a world filled with self-driving cars and artificial general intelligence. However, digital identity is about to revolutionize how we engage with government and business in Australia and around the world. By 2024, new forms of digital ID will eliminate the need for physical copies of driver’s licenses, passports, and birth certificates when renewing certain checks or setting up bank accounts.
While the benefits of digital ID are clear, such as convenience, efficiency, and lower risk of cybercrime, there are also risks involved, such as privacy breaches, data misuse, and reduced trust in government. To address these risks, the Human Technology Institute has released a paper proposing legal and policy measures to improve user safeguards and build community trust for the rollout of digital ID in New South Wales (NSW). These principles can also be applied to the development of any safe, reliable, and responsible digital identity system.
Digital identity initiatives are already being implemented across Australia. For example, the Document Verification Service has been in operation since 2009 to automate the verification of important documents like passports. Last year alone, this service was used over 140 million times by government and private sector organizations. Facial verification technology has also been used over a million times.
However, Australia has lacked an effective legal framework to govern the existing digital ID system. This is starting to change with the federal government releasing a national strategy for digital identity resilience and passing the Identity Verification Services Bill 2023 to protect privacy and other rights. Additionally, the Digital ID Bill 2023 has been proposed to establish rules for expanding Australia’s digital identification system.
While the federal government has been active in this area, NSW has been a leader in digital ID initiatives. The state announced its Digital ID program in April 2022 and has been working to establish a world-leading digital ID system with strong community safeguards.
Digital identity technologies, such as facial verification, are powerful but also carry risks. These technologies should result in less personal information being collected and used by third parties. For example, when verifying someone’s age, only the fact that they are over 18 should be necessary, without disclosing other sensitive data. However, errors and the collection of sensitive personal information pose risks of identity fraud and hacking.
To make digital ID safe, robust safeguards must be in place. Digital identity systems should be voluntary, ensuring citizens have options for choice and consent. They should also prioritize the privacy and data security of users and prevent the unintended use of data for law enforcement purposes. Legislation should enshrine user protections, performance standards, oversight and accountability mechanisms, and interoperability with other government systems.
These principles are not limited to NSW and can be applied to other jurisdictions developing digital identity systems. The success of Australia’s digital identity transformation relies on establishing safe, secure, and accountable systems through robust governance mechanisms. Only then will Australians embrace and trust the digital transformation that is underway.