NSW to pilot digital identity verification for government services

The upcoming service is expected to be provided on an opt-in basis.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor
Image: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

People in the Australian state of New South Wales may soon be able to verify their identity online from anywhere for government services in an upcoming pilot.

"Photo verification will enable millions of customers to complete government transactions anywhere, anytime or authenticate themselves using a photo verification login," Service NSW CEO Damon Rees said.

"This will provide customers with greater accessibility to government services, especially customers with a disability, time poor customers and those in rural or regional areas, who are unable to or experience difficulty attending Service NSW centres. 

The upcoming identity verification service comes months after NSW sought vendors to provide two new digital identity systems: One to deliver digital proof of identity and the other for digital identity sharing.    

The technology, which is expected to be embedded in the Service NSW app, will work by matching a photo a user takes of themselves with a reference photo, like a driver's licence. The photo verification software then reads the geometry of the user's face to make a decision on whether the verification is successful. Once the images are successfully matched, the selfie and any verification data would then be "instantly and safely destroyed". 

Rees confirmed that Service NSW will not keep nor permanently store any face image of users who opt into using the service. Instead, only the government agency that originally collected a user's personal information when issuing identity documents will hold the data, he said.

The upcoming pilot identity verification service will also be available on an opt-in basis and users will need to provide ongoing consent, which means they will be able to opt out at any time.  

The announcement follows the state government rolling out a service allowing drivers to register their vehicles digitally. According to Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello, digital vehicle registration was developed as around 16% of registrations in the state were not renewed on time due to paperwork being damaged and misplaced.

Transitioning towards digital has been high on the state's agenda, with the New South Wales government in November announcing it commenced work on a new whole-of-government approach towards digital identity. This new direction is aimed at giving customers the option to use digital credentials for various licences, certifications, qualifications, and eligibility documents.

"The new digital services will be faster, more convenient, and less costly to use than paper or physical alternatives and will be less prone to forgery, misplacement, or theft than physical documents," Dominello said at the time.

Updated at 10:00am AEST, 7 April 2022: Updated story to reflect the pilot has not commenced at time of writing.

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