​Australian government details Govpass digital ID

The government's digital identification system will match a user's photograph, as well as Medicare, driver's licence, and birth certificate details, with information already held by various departments.


Screenshot: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

The federal government has detailed what its digital identification solution will look like, outlining how citizens can apply for an optional Govpass in a video posted on YouTube.

The Govpass platform is currently in testing phase, with a beta version "soon" available for opt-in.

To register for a Govpass, citizens will need to enter a handful of personal details, starting with their email address. Once an address is entered, the user will receive a code via email, with the second step requiring that code to be entered into the account creation screen.

Then, the user must enter their mobile number, which will be sent a text with another code to enter at the next stage. A "backup" email address is also required.

The video explains the user will then be required to provide details from their Medicare card, driver's licence, or birth certificate. This can be done by either entering the information into an online form, or uploading a photograph of the government-issued identification document.

"These details are checked with the Medicare office, and if they match, they will be verified within seconds," the video explains.

"To ensure the integrity of your digital identity, you'll be asked to provide details from a couple of other documents. This will make Govpass ensure you are who you say you are."

The final step of registering for a Govpass requires the applicant to take a photo using their phone's camera or computer's webcam. The images are then submitted for comparison with an existing photographic identification such as a passport, which is held by the Attorney-General's Department's Facial Verification System (FVS).

If the information matches what the government has on file, a Govpass ID will be created, and the government will "discard" the identity documents once the user is verified.

"Govpass will be trusted and secure," the video says.

The political heads of Australia's states and territories unanimously agreed to establish a facial biometric database earlier this month, with agencies in all jurisdictions able to use the FVS to access passport, visa, citizenship, and driver's licence images.

At present, the Attorney-General's Department also runs the Document Verification Service (DVS), used by organisations to confirm the validity of identification documents such as the information entered into the Govpass application.

As highlighted on Twitter, Equifax -- which is still dealing with the aftermath of a vast data breach, which led to the theft of personal, sensitive information belonging to roughly 145.5 million US citizens, as well as at least 693,000 UK residents and Canadian individuals -- is one of the gateway service providers for the DVS.

Following a review into heath providers' access to the Health Professional Online Services system, and in particular access to Medicare card information, the review panel -- headed by professor Peter Shergold, and comprising also the president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Michael Gannon; Dr Kean-Seng Lim, also from the Australian Medical Association; and president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Dr Bastian Seidel -- dismissed requests to suspend a Medicare card from being a valid form of ID in Australia.

The panel responded to submissions asking for its removal from being a secondary form of identification as potentially disadvantaging certain vulnerable members of the community.

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 in a statement on Tuesday.

"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."

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 number of users and services by mid-2018.

"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.

The DTA also 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."

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