​ATO using Govpass digital ID solution for tax file numbers

The federal government expects its Govpass solution will link to existing document and facial verification services to establish identity.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is currently testing the federal government's digital identification solution for its online tax file number application process.

Govpass, the Digital Transformation Agency's (DTA) digital identification play, aims to make the process of proving who you are to government services online "simple, safe, and secure".

In a statement on Thursday, Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor explained that there are 750,000 applications for tax file numbers every year.

Currently, applications can 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.

Taylor expects Govpass will reduce the time down to minutes.

The Govpass initiative was handed AU$22.7 million from the 2017-18 federal Budget to complete its next stage of development, which includes the solution being tested on a broader number of users and services by mid-2018, when it reaches public beta.

"Govpass will provide a trusted digital identity framework for use by people needing to provide secure proof of identity to use government services online," the government explained in its Budget papers.

With the political heads of Australia's states and territories unanimously agreeing to establish a facial biometric database earlier on Thursday, the government also said in its Budget papers that the Govpass solution will "link to existing document and facial verification services to establish identity".

In order to iron out the Govpass solution, the DTA is also seeking feedback on its Trusted Digital Identity Framework, which sets out the policies and requirements -- including privacy, security, risk and fraud management, and standards -- to build a nationally consistent approach to online identity. It is also hoping to establish "best practice" for the public and private sectors when using the standards.

"We've been working with key stakeholders, including government, industry, and privacy advocates over the past 12 months to draft this framework," Taylor said. "It includes robust rules for accrediting identity providers and standards to prove an identity."

The framework would sit alongside Govpass.

The DTA is building and testing new technology, called the exchange, that will act as a go-between for the department and the organisation or verifier that can vouch for a user. The exchange will seek an electronic tick of approval from an accredited verifier, giving the user access to a range of government online services.

The DTA has recently partnered with Australia Post to seek feasibility of integrating Australia Post's Digital ID into the Govpass program.

"We will work closely with Australia Post to develop standards, processes, and policies that will lay the foundations for a federated digital identity system," the DTA said.

"The partnership will focus on building identity solutions that improve people's access to government services online and in person."

Before he resigned in July, former Australia Post managing director and group CEO Ahmed Fahour said he believed an identity solution, like Digital ID, could unlock significant benefits for everyday Australians doing business with government process.

"Our research shows these processes cost the Australian economy up to AU$11 billion a year in proving identity alone, and can be unlocked by making it easy, safe, and secure to prove that you are who you say you are when interacting online," he said.

The government-owned postal service announced in August that it was rolling out its Digital ID system to the Queensland Police Service, credit union CUA, job outsourcing site Airtasker, and foreign exchange company Travelex over the next couple of months.

Touted by Australia Post as a convenient way to verify one's identity online, the Digital ID smartphone app requests verification once, negating the need to repeatedly use several forms of identity or to have numerous passwords to access products and services.

The post office already employs its identification system for some of its own products and services, including MyPost parcel collect and its mail redirection service.

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