Access Card re-draft fails to meet critics' concerns

The Australian Democrats, the Australian Labor Party and privacy groups continue to hold serious concerns regarding the federal government's proposed Access Card, after a re-draft of the legislation was released on Thursday last week. Human Services Minister Chris Ellison released a 200-page draft proposal of its controversial Access Card bill on Thursday 21 June, just hours before the Parliament went on a six week break for Winter.

The Australian Democrats, the Australian Labor Party and privacy groups continue to hold serious concerns regarding the federal government's proposed Access Card, after a re-draft of the legislation was released on Thursday last week.

Human Services Minister Chris Ellison released a 200-page draft proposal of its controversial Access Card bill on Thursday 21 June, just hours before the Parliament went on a six week break for Winter.

According to Ellison the draft responds to community calls for greater detail regarding the project, and the technology on which it will rely.

Releasing the bill simultaneously to the press and parliament, Senator Ellison announced the draft legislation would undergo a two-month period of public consultation, before it would be revised and brought before Parliament.

Groups including the Privacy Commission and Australian Federal Police, which had been quite critical of previous drafts of the Access Card legislation, are taking advantage of the review process rather than commenting to the media at this stage.

A spokesperson for Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis, confirmed the commission was working on a submission to the Access Card office while the Federal Police's official comment is that its concerns are being met through participation in ministerial workgroups.

Although the new draft outlines administrative review mechanisms, oversight and governance of the Access Card system, dependants, carers and other linked persons, as well as information security and protection, it has nonetheless attracted opposition calls for more detail and greater transparency.

Describing the registration process as flawed, a spokesperson for Shadow Minister for Human Services Tanya Plibersek said the draft proposal posed a serious threat to privacy of card holders, and was in serious danger of allowing for fraudulent card registrations.

"Labor remains concerned that the Access Card is likely to cost more and save less than the government claims," the spokesperson said. "More specifically, we are concerned that the government has not been able to show that the main source of health or welfare fraud is identity fraud and that the card may end up costing the taxpayer far more than is budgeted, and far more than identity or card fraud currently does."

Democrat Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, who participated in the Senate committee reviewing the initial Access Card proposal said this second draft contains serious flaws which could compromise card-holders basic right to privacy.

"There is no requirement to protect the microchip with the highest level of encryption, and no privacy or security breach notification requirement. This means people will have no way of knowing if their privacy has been breached," Stott-Despoja said.

The Democrats also flagged concerns regarding warrantless access to information registers, which would see the police and ASIO gather information from government databases without first seeking a court order.

"There is also uncertainty around the re-issuing and decommissioning of lost or stolen cards, how much quality health information will be on the card and which organisations will be given or have to purchase card readers to access the chips." Stott-Despoja said.

Photo ID errors
Concerns have also been raised by University of New South Wales researcher Dr Richard Kemp that the government may overestimate the effectiveness of photo ID in the prevention of fraud.

His concern is that the means to override the biometric identification will always fall back on humans, whose capacity to recognise an unknown individual from a photograph is somewhat limited.

"My research shows an extremely high rate of both false positive and false negative errors when human beings are asked to recognise people based on a photo ID," Dr Kemp said. "When you consider that we found a number of possible mistaken identities in a random group of just a hundred, without even attempting to use family members, you start to see how the effectiveness of photos can potentially be misleading."

While the kerfuffle continues regarding the nature of the legislation, technology tenders for the delivery of the cards are effectively on hold until such a time as the legislation is actually passed.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, changes to the draft legislation have not affected the requirements of the systems integrator or cards issuance and management tenders which closed in March this year.

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