DTA considering international 'brokerage' of digital identities

Reaching a point where Australia can 'broker' the agreed digital identity of a citizen with another country is in the sights of the Digital Transformation Agency.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) last year unveiled its plan to provide everyone in Australia with a digital identity known as Govpass.

Govpass is expected to make the process of proving who an individual is to government "simple, safe, and secure" online, with former Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor previously touting the platform as a faster, simpler way to move between online services provided by the Australian government.

However, facing a House of Representatives Joint Standing Committee on Friday, DTA chief digital officer Peter Alexander discussed reaching a point with digital identification that will allow the exchange of agreed citizen identities with not only government agencies at all levels, but also other countries.

"We're working with international governments who are all doing similar things ... to say how would we harmonise something like that, and how could you have some brokerage between them," Alexander told the committee.

"How could you have confidence that at an easy level, somewhere like New Zealand, we can trust their digital identities; and at a more complex level, other countries that we don't have a strong relationship with, how can we trust their digital identities -- how can we broker international engagement of individuals and businesses and government?"

Alexander told the committee inquiring into the trade system and the digital economy that such an agreement could also facilitate the sharing of data digitally, be that big datasets or just a particular transaction that bounces off an individual's digital identification.

Detailing what its digital identification solution will look like in October, an explanatory video published by the DTA walked through the application process, which requires an individual to hand over personal details, such as both a primary and secondary email address, phone number, Medicare card, and a driver's licence or birth certificate.

Alexander told the government committee on Friday that Australians are getting more comfortable in sharing data with the government.

He said historically, citizens have been eager to share their data or browsing information with the likes of Facebook, but if the government was to start serving up suggestions based on their government browsing history, it was seen as "a little bit creepy".

"People shied away from that, but our user research ... shows they are now expecting that from us," he explained.

Facing the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue in November, Alexander revealed that there are three providers that will be charged with the responsibility of Govpass in the first instance: The Australian Taxation Office (ATO), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and Australia Post.

"They hold a lot of identity data already," Alexander said. "It could easily be extended to jurisdictional providers and commercial providers, who are talking to banks, the Australian payment network, and others who can provide identity."

His remarks followed the Reserve Bank of Australia, which argued to the committee that Australia's banks are better positioned to be involved with building out Govpass, as online banking is considered a better digital experience than the government's contentious myGov portal.


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