​ATO to work government's identity play into tax time requirements

Govpass is already being toyed with by the ATO for tax file number applications, but the agency has said that once it reaches a certain level of 'sexy', it has the potential to extend into other transactions.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has told the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue that it expects the government's recently detailed digital identification system will have a big part to play in citizen engagement.

Addressing the committee on Friday was ATO CDO John Dardo, who discussed the Taxation Office's standpoint on digital service delivery, and what part the Govpass digital identity solution will play in citizen and business engagement with his agency as it moves into more "online" ways of interacting with the community.

Dardo highlighted that in moving services online, a big part of the security piece is tied up with the idea of identity.

"If you don't have good identity, identity systems, and good tokens, then clearly that becomes a risk to the system because you really don't know who you're transacting with digitally," he explained.

"So, that's an area that we're making investments in and increasingly we will tidy up.

"If we fix identity and get it to a really sexy thing ... [we can look at] what would that look like in terms of saved red tape or paper reductions."

Govpass, the Digital Transformation Agency's (DTA) digital identification offering, aims to make the process of proving who you are to government services online "simple, safe, and secure", with Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor touting the platform as a faster, simpler way to move between online services.

"The Australian government has more than 30 different logins for digital services. Not only does this create extra work for users, it represents unnecessary expense for agencies," Taylor said previously. "I would like to see a point where we can do away with all those usernames and passwords, that need to continue to be updated, when you log in to a service."

Earlier this month, it was revealed the ATO was already testing Govpass for its online tax file number application process.

With around 750,000 applications for tax file numbers every year, applications can currently only be completed by visiting an Australia Post or Centrelink shopfront, or by sending certified copies of identity documents to the ATO via post, with the process taking roughly 40 days to complete.

It is expected that Govpass will reduce the time down to minutes.

With developers and software providers able to plug into ATO functions already, as digital identity is further worked into the system, Dardo said the agency will need to be firm with opening up access.

"Our position will be if you don't meet standards as agreed upon and the maturity of them over time, you will not be allowed to play in the system for high risk interactions or transactions; we just will not let you connect," he told the committee.

"Otherwise any mobile app developer could connect to our systems."

For known developers, Dardo said there is a certain level of trust based on interactions over the years, which he said has resulted into a "slightly different risk approach" to those entities. For new developers, he said the ATO is "certainly applying a threshold" which has resulted in many developers being turned away from accessing some of the ATO's otherwise open tech.

Also of concern to Dardo and his agency in moving to more digital ways of operating is the risk of leaving people behind, or disengaging a group of people that aren't as technologically sound as others.

"I do lose sleep over the fact -- putting businesses aside -- we do have a percentage of the population that won't ever get to digital, my mum will never get to digital, she wants the old Nokia handset ... we do have to look after those people too," he explained.

Another risk of digitisation without proper thought is moving the paper world online, which Dardo said if digital merely replaces paper with the same processes still in place, it is "just dumb".

"All it will do is give you a really bad digital thing rather than a more seamless, more integrated digital thing," the CDO said.

"In digital, you could potentially have the thing that you're sending -- remittance, invoice -- tied with the payment, tied with the journal entries, so you get once experience where you don't have to touch it [multiple times]. Design is quite critical here."

With reports of scammers pretending to be ATO representatives cold-calling citizens with their full name, date of birth, and address at hand, the committee asked the ATO if there was a risk that moving further into the online world with its services could breed further scam opportunities.

"We are aware of the risk, there are some things in place to mitigate it, but there are some things we're working on in the longer term like the identity solution, where when we call you, or when we alert you, it will be through a secure method," Dardo explained, noting a citizen on a call with the ATO representative will receive a notification from the ATO app to confirm they are having a legitimate conversation.

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