2024: The year of digital identity?

Published on the 08/02/2024 | Written by Heather Wright

2024: The year of digital identity?

Australia and NZ gear up for digital ID launches…

National digital identity schemes are expected to be up and running across Australia and New Zealand from mid-year.

There has been a flurry of activity around digital ID schemes – which as their name suggests provide a way for individuals to prove their identity, without having to constantly provide identification documents.

“There is a lot of work to do to get the public embracing digital identities.”

Australia’s government reportedly has its eyes on a July 01 launch for the country’s ‘whole of economy’ digital ID. The scheme was introduced to Senate late last year, and would expand the existing program to state and territory governments and – in time – the private sector. That ‘in time’ aspect for the private sector is one area causing consternation for some – but more on that soon.

The new laws support an accreditation scheme for digital ID service providers, and the expansion of the myGov ID.

The Albanese Government opened the purse strings on AU$145.5 million, over four years, to support the digital ID plans and implement independent regulation and oversight of the system, with the ACCC to ‘perform interim regulatory functions’ from July. A digital ID regulatory would ultimately oversee digital ID laws, though multiple agencies such as the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, would also be involved.

In New Zealand the Digital Identity Services Trust Framework Act 2023 was passed in April 2023 to streamline and regulate the use of digital identities in the country. It’s due to come into force in July 2024 and, as in Australia, aims to promote the use of digital identities, and a ‘digital identity network’ which would enable consumers to choose a preferred accredited digital ID provider, log details with that provider and then use digital ID across any businesses they transact with.

Currently there’s one key Kiwi player – RealMe, the Kiwi equivalent of Australia’s myGov, and administered (and regulated) by the Department of Internal Affairs. It’s used by government agencies and some Kiwi businesses.

In Australia, Australia Post, Mastercard and OCR Labs, which provides optical scanning recognition for government and private companies, have already been accredited, while Australia Payments Plus – a joint venture between eftpos, Bpay and NPP Australia – is an accredited exchange for checking credentials.

Australia’s Minister for Finance, Katy Gallagher says digital ID will enable citizens to more easily and securely do the things they need to do online.

More than AU$600 million has already been invested in Australia’s digital ID scheme, which launched in 2015, but users are only able to access Commonwealth services using the myGov digital ID service.

The benefits of digital ID have long been touted.

In its submissions to the inquiry into Australia’s Digital ID Bill 2023, the Tech Council of Australia says it’s critical for unlocking a myriad of benefits for government, citizens and the economy, including enhancing user experience and supporting productivity by reducing the time and costs associated with manual identity verification. Those resources can instead be pumped into more productive business processes or value-add tasks.

It’s also a key component of Australia’s cybersecurity strategy and aims to enhance trust and privacy, along with that digital convenience.

The Tech Council of Australia is also eyeing up the innovation opportunity. The global digital ID market was valued at AU$42.5 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow to more than $125.9 billion by 2028 according to Statistica Research.

Those with regulatory and risk reasons for obtaining trusted data about people – such as know your customer anti-money laundering requirements or online alcohol purchasing – are also eyeing digital ID to ease their lives.

But the vision of a frictionless, safe, privacy-aware digital future still has hurdles to overcome.

In Australia some have called for the scheme to be made available to both private and public sector at the same time, rather than the planned rollout which would see it kick off first with state governments.

The Business Council of Australia has called for clarity on the timelines for private sector access to and use of digital identity – the final two phases of the Government’s initial proposal.

“While we support the government getting the legislation right, this should not create market or competitive distortions – ie by cementing the government’s digital ID service as the monopoly before opening to private sector offerings.

“Providing certainty that the system will be taken forward swiftly will be critical for businesses and consumers to know they can realise the full benefits of a federated system.”

There have also been concerns in Australia about duplication as states – some of which have been working on digital ID systems for years –  release their own accredited systems.

The issue of guardrails has also raising its head, with Digital Rights Watch concerned about potential disclosures to law enforcement and the ‘repurposing’ of digital ID data or infrastructure for surveillance purposes. A lack of clear requirements on organisations to delete or destroy information if requested by an individual has also sparked concern, with Digital Rights Watch calling for specific data retention limitations.

The Australian bill was redrafted following consultation last year to ensure law enforcement can only request access to non-biometric information under certain conditions, including a warrant or where court proceedings have begun. But Digital Rights Watch remains concerned, saying while it appreciates that some attempt has been made to narrow the scope of disclosure to law enforcement, it continues to strongly oppose any repurposing of digital ID data or infrastructure for surveillance purposes.

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties also believes the changes don’t go far enough. It wants law enforcement access prohibited completely.

“NSWCCL believe that the proposed safeguards are not sufficient. There should be no law enforcement access to information in the digital ID system with or without a warrant,” it says.

Overcoming the big obstacles is only one area.

Colin Wallis, Digital Identity New Zealand director, says New Zealand has a lot of work to do to get the public embracing digital identities.

“We will only move the dial if public sector agencies and industry genuinely rally around our shared issues, and collectively inform and educate people on why these issues matter.

“Alongside these efforts, it is important to maintain non-digital channels for those who can’t, don’t feel confident with, or choose not to use digital.”

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