Fintech collaboration on the cards for Australia's digital identity

As the Digital Transformation Agency prepares to pilot the biometric capabilities of its digital identity system.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has been working on Australia's digital identity system, hoping to make the way people access government services simpler and more streamlined.

The system will allow people and businesses to have a single secure way to verify their identity to use government services online, similar to a 100-point identification check, but with the addition of biometric proofing.

The DTA is delivering the program in partnership with Services Australia, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Department of Home Affairs, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

It's been testing the system through pilots for a number of years, with the DTA revealing in March that the biometric component of its digital identity play would be ready for public testing by mid-year, and that it was ensuring the quality of the biometric would be "exactly where it needs to be" before it is pushed out to the masses.

In a submission [PDF] to the Select Committee on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology, the DTA said it has successfully connected and tested new software products that allow an individual to compare their selfie to the photo on their passport, proving that biometric digital identity is achievable.

The DTA said it has connected the foundational elements of the system to support Tax File Number application, Unique Student Identifier, Grants Recipient Portal, and ATO Business Portal pilot services.

Supporting digital identity is the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF), which is a set of standards for a digital identity.

The government's myGovID, handled by the ATO, and Australia Post's digital identity play both became "trusted identity service providers" after they received accreditation under the TDIF.

The DTA said as of 15 May 2020, the myGovID smartphone app had been downloaded 1.65 million times and 1.27 million myGovID digital identities had been created.

As the Select Committee is currently looking into the opportunities fintech and regtech can provide Australia, the DTA discussed how its digital identity system has been supporting the digital economy.

The DTA said that to address inefficiencies in the financial services sector and in response to market need, a group of private sector organisations, under the umbrella of the Australian Payments Council (APC), have been developing a complementary open and contestable framework to the TDIF.

The TrustID Framework, the DTA said, sets out various requirements to "facilitate the emergence of an interoperable network of competing digital identity solutions in Australia".

"The framework is designed to allow individuals to establish a digital identity online with a preferred service provider, and then to use those credentials to verify who they are when interacting online with other business," it wrote.

"The TrustID framework complements the TDIF for the financial sector in that it promotes choice of identity providers and may be a path to increase the take-up of digital identity in the broader economy."

According to the DTA, it ensures online identity verification across the economy is designed to support long-term interoperability.

The DTA said over time, it is envisaged that the focus on open standards and strong collaboration between the APC and the DTA would mean that an individual could have the option of using a single service provider to access both public and private sector services.

"This could include accessing innovative digital products and services provided by the financial services sector," it said.

"As Australia's digital economy expands, digital identity will unlock more and more services and could become the preferred verification tool for users accessing government and private sector services alike.

"It will also assist in building trust within a wide range of online interactions. Building this trust is increasingly important as people spend more of their time and money online."

Since commencing in 2015-16, the Digital Identity Program spend to date is AU$210 million and the DTA said in response to questions on notice from Senate Estimates in March that delivery of the program is on track to meet commitments to government.

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