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Australia's Digital ID Proposal & Its Impact on Business, Society, Privacy and National Priorities

Digital identity card in Australia

Are you aware of the impending development of significant national importance! The Australian Labor Government has announced its intention to draft a digital identity bill, poised to pave the way for the establishment of a comprehensive digital ID system during 2024. It is unclear as to whether this system will be voluntary and if so for those who choose to opt out what aspects of life will they be denied from experiencing? This measure, with its far-reaching implications, invites us to explore together potential strategies as individuals, businesses and industries to actively engage in shaping this discourse.

Back To the Future

In the not-so-distant past, comparable proposals have elicited ardent debates. It is worth noting that in 1987, the concept of the Australia Identity Card was advanced by the then Federal Labor government under the leadership of Bob Hawke. The proposed national identification card aimed to consolidate various identification mechanisms while combating tax evasion and instances of health and welfare fraud. However, the Senate's rejection of the legislative proposal, amid wider claims of it being "unAustralian," underscores the multifaceted nature of such initiatives. This historical event triggered in the end a double dissolution.

The Morrison Liberal government also tried to establish a national digital identification system. If fact, successive attempts over the last few decades by bureaucrats to get governments to give them a national ID scheme have all been rejected by Australians and parliament.

International parallels further accentuate the complexity inherent in establishing comprehensive ID systems. Instances of resistance against ID card implementations span nations, such as France, Germany, the Philippines, and New Zealand. Such cases underscore the need for measured consideration and public discourse in the formulation of policies of this nature.

Over the past fifteen years, the terminology has expanded to include NTIF (the Trusted National Identity Framework) and TDIF (the Trusted Digital Identity Framework). These constructs represent the government's drive to establish a unified foundation with the goal of harmonising the efforts of various stakeholders across state boundaries. The overarching aim is to cultivate a collaborative ecosystem, where the fusion of infrastructure and personal data is synergistically available and used.

At the core of a state/national identity system lie pivotal elements: an all-encompassing database, a unique identifier for each individual, an ID token like a card or a number, stringent quality assurance mechanisms, widespread integration of data, identifiers, and the database itself, all underpinned by obligations for individuals and numerous entities, fortified by a system of control to ensure compliance.

Important Considerations To Deliberate

The intricacy transcends the structural design of this elaborate framework and its considerable demands in management; it envelops a seemingly straightforward sales pitch of advantages, yet its colossal scope leaves individuals perplexed. Its proposal, characterised by ambiguity, is now being discreetly entwined within a legal framework, all the while lacking the imperative transparency and public deliberation it necessitates.

As we approach this important juncture, it is imperative to deliberate upon several crucial facets:

  1. Balanced Public Perspective: While corporations, suppliers and governmental officials may emphasise practicalities and deliverables, public perspectives can significantly differ. Recognising and addressing these variances is essential for fostering well-informed decisions.

  2. Scrutiny of Claims: Claims pertaining to the technological underpinnings of ID systems, including platforms, ownership, choice, benefits and drawbacks, warrant meticulous evaluation. The need for credible and outcomes-based research to substantiate these claims cannot be understated. Its sheer magnitude demands integration of a wide spectrum of components. However, its effectiveness remains questionable, as those intent on evading, circumventing, or establishing multiple identities within the system face minimal obstacles.

  3. Privacy and Security: The establishment of a wide-ranging biometric and digital ID system necessitates a comprehensive evaluation of potential consent, privacy and security implications. The convergence of data resources poses inherent risks that demand proactive mitigation strategies. Multiple-agency access increases the likelihood of data misuse and abuse, necessitating robust safeguards. Who is in control of your data? What will it be used for? What obligations will the system require of you? Think about it for a moment, if you were to connect your digital ID to the internet of things and internet of bodies, the algorithms and metadata identification runs through an expansive system, how many people will have access to your data both nationally and internationally?

  4. Legal inconsistencies: An ID system in Queensland, for example, may in all likelihood breach its Human Rights Act. Furthermore, a digital ID may erode the privacy and data protection principles enshrined in law.

  5. Evidence-Based Decision-Making: Assertions surrounding the efficacy of digital IDs in enhancing national security or administrative efficiency necessitate empirical substantiation. Research-based evaluations are paramount to ensuring informed policy formulation.

  6. And what about the potential impact on small and medium sized businesses, start-ups, and scale-ups? The potential burden of compliance, data security vulnerabilities, and the diversion of resources may hinder growth and innovation for these business sectors who are already dealing with high costs and growth hindering policies.

  7. Financial and Administrative Implications: The cost of implementing a digital ID system, encompassing infrastructure, compliance measures, and parallel systems, must be objectively evaluated against the anticipated benefits. Credible estimates are pivotal to informed decision-making.

  8. Collective Involvement: As responsible Aussies, there are avenues available to engage in the discourse surrounding the establishment of a digital ID system. Engaging with advocacy groups, contributing to informed public dialogue, and seeking opportunities for public participation can collectively shape policy outcomes. Also, the question that begs to be asked is, do we really need one?

A Different Perspective

Up until now we are being sold one type of model that promises to protect, keep us honest and make things easier. In this proposed model someone else owns and manages our data. Imagine now a framework where an individual has ownership and control over their own data, allowing them to decide who has access to it and for what purposes.

In such a model, individuals would be able to securely store and manage their own data. This information could be based on blockchain or other decentralised technologies, ensuring that no single entity, including governments, organisations or corporations, have exclusive control over the data. Instead, individuals would hold the cryptographic keys necessary to access and share their data.

Here's how this model could work;

  1. User-Centric Control: Individuals would have full control over their data. They can choose which data to share, with whom, and for what purpose. This gives individuals the power to grant or revoke access to their data as needed.

  2. Decentralised Storage: Data could be stored in a decentralised manner, distributed across a network of servers or nodes. This reduces the risk of a single point of failure and enhances security.

  3. Blockchain Technology: Blockchain or similar technologies could be used to establish trust and ensure the integrity of data. Transactions and data sharing would be recorded on an immutable ledger, adding transparency and auditability.

  4. Interoperability: The model could support interoperability between different services and platforms. Individuals can use their data across various applications without the need to create separate accounts or share the same data multiple times.

  5. Consent Mechanisms: Individuals would grant explicit consent for data access and sharing. This could involve the use of consent contracts to automate the process, ensuring that data is accessed only when the specified conditions are met.

  6. Data Portability: Individuals can easily move their data from one service provider to another, fostering competition and giving users more choice.

  7. Privacy by Design: The model would prioritise privacy and data protection from the outset. Data would be encrypted, and access controls would be implemented to minimise the risk of unauthorised access.

  8. Legal and Regulatory Frameworks: To ensure the effectiveness of this model, legal and regulatory frameworks would need to be established to recognise and protect individuals' rights over their own data and Human Rights Laws need to include digital rights into their frameworks.

Amidst technological progress and escalating apprehensions regarding data confidentiality, coupled with Shoshana Zuboff's depiction of our society's evolution into "Surveillance Capitalism" or a technocratic landscape, a heightened curiosity and drive have emerged to investigate frameworks that grant individuals authority over their own data. Reflecting on previous rejections, a prevailing sentiment leans towards a preference for abstaining from the implementation of a Digital ID system.

Furthermore, it is crucial to recognise the broader implications of policy priorities. The pressing question arises: Should our collective focus be directed towards implementing a digital ID system, or should we instead prioritise critical attention to sectors such as education, reducing energy costs, healthcare, construction, advanced manufacturing, agriculture, and fostering innovation within our nation's boundaries? According to credit bureau, Illion, one in 10 firms in the retail, hospitality and construction sectors are at risk of going bankrupt in the next 12 months, as high interest rates and the slowdown in consumer spending pile up the pressure on company finances. Wouldn’t it show leadership if our government focused on projects that boosted our national economic performance and fulfilled the promises they made during their election campaign?

In conclusion, Next time you meet with family and friends, discuss this very important topic, there is a need for active participation in public discussions and dialogues. Let us collectively ensure that policies of profound significance are shaped collaboratively, reflecting the principles of transparency, accountability, and the preservation of individual rights.

In the spirit of democratic engagement, this matter must be subjected to a referendum or designated as a top election issue. There is need for greater public and cross industry consultancy, ensuring that the collective voice of the general public and SMEs, start-ups and scaleups guides the path forward. Together, we can contribute to shaping the trajectory of our nation's policies, with an unwavering focus on our shared values and aspirations. It is up to the citizenry to keep in check the government, executive arm legislature, otherwise our future will be more stick and not much carrot.


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