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Australia could finalize digital ID legislation by mid-2024, but long road still ahead

Australia could finalize digital ID legislation by mid-2024, but long road still ahead

After years of delays and reorganizations, Australia’s national digital identity system may be on the horizon.

The country’s Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said on Tuesday that the legislation for the federally-backed digital ID could be in place by mid-2024. Once the legislation is in place, the technology is largely ready to get the system running, Gallager told The Australian Financial Review (AFR).

“If all things line up, and we’re able to move pretty swiftly, we could have legislation in place mid-year next year. That’s a pretty tight timeframe, so I don’t want to be held to that, but that is kind of my road map,” she says.

The Minister also said that the government has received cabinet approval for the next stage, the exposure draft, which will hopefully be finalized by September. The digital ID would initially be regulated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and later by a specific digital regulator.

The digital ID, which aims to eliminate separate log-ins for different government services, has received increased attention after last year’s massive data breach into telecommunications company Optus and Medibank, Australia’s largest private health insurer.

The ID program, which has spent over AU$600 million (roughly US$404 million) so far, came under the control of the Department of Finance in July this year. Australia’s federal government also released a National Strategy for Identity Resilience in June which proposes increasing the use of biometrics for higher security.

The challenges: Conspiracy theories, interoperability and local government pushback

Despite the progress, Gallagher also warned that the digital ID will still have to face pushback from certain sections of the public which are wary of the government. Conspiracy theories will need to be fended off with clear communication, she says.

Another obstacle would be integrating other Australian digital ID schemes into an interoperable ecosystem.

“We want to see an economy-wide system, and in a sense, we’ve got that operating now, without regulation. We’ve got some private digital ID providers and then you’ve got myGov,” Gallagher says.

Australia’s myGov app offers access to federal services. Confusingly, the Australian Tax Office also runs an app called myGovID. Mastercard, Australia Post and Australian Payments Plus have also developed identity verification solutions that could hook into a national ID system. In May this year, the state of New South Wales launched a beta version of its own system called NSW Digital ID alongside several pilots.

This week, former New South Wales digital government minister Victor Dominello told AFR that a simple and seamless experience in online interaction with the government still has a long way to go, including with the NSW Digital ID. Dominello, who also leads the digital identity think tank Trustworthy Digital Society Hub, said that managing health services in particular is “a mess.”

“I ran out of runway to try to tackle it, but it needs a concerted effort … because if you want real productivity gains, that’s where we need to play,” he says.

The Australian government will also have to contend with resistance from its own ranks. Finance Minister Gallagher has expressed hope that the new digital ID system will have bipartisan support.

Centralizing Australia’s digital ID efforts has attempted derailments in the past leading to years of delays. The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), which was tasked with handling these efforts in 2015, has faced deep resistance from other agencies, writes The Mandarin.

Disagreement over the scope of the digital ID scheme still persists. Chris McLaren, chief customer and digital officer in the state of Queensland, argued this week that an overreaching ID controlled by the Commonwealth is not the right answer. Instead, “anybody should be able to present themselves with an identity of their choice,” McLaren told AFR.

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