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Australian Digital ID Bill draws feedback from finance, business, civil rights groups

Australian Digital ID Bill draws feedback from finance, business, civil rights groups

First introduced to Parliament in November after being in the works for over three years, a parliamentary inquiry on Australia’s Digital ID Bill has reached its closing date for receiving submissions. Submissions from civil rights groups express concern about privacy and how law enforcement could misuse biometric data. On the other hand, business and financial groups argue the system could be key in strengthening identity security and verification.

The bill was redrafted last year after advocates urged the Albanese government to consider stronger restrictions on law enforcement access to the information to help build trust. While the most current version of the bill restricts law enforcement access to biometric information to cases with a warrant or consent, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) says that “there should be no law enforcement access… with or without a warrant” in a submission to the parliamentary inquiry on the Digital ID Bill.

While NSWCCL says it endorses codification of the Australian Government Digital Identity System, especially in light of recent high profile data breaches, it notes the need for an effective legal framework to address security concerns and the potential for data misuse, particularly by law enforcement.

The NSWCCL also advocates for a bill of rights to accompany the legislation, as Australia is the only liberal democracy without an enforceable human rights framework, while other countries implementing digital IDs are built on such frameworks.

It also calls for safeguards in line with international human rights standards, particularly Article 2 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that indigenous peoples “have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination… in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.”

In its submission, Digital Rights Watch similarly voiced concern about law enforcement, further noting that prohibiting law enforcement access could curtail concerns about mass surveillance that “could undermine public trust in these systems.”

The organizations raised concerns about exemptions in subsection 3 of the bill that allow accredited entities to use an individual’s online activities to inform the “performance or usability of information technology systems through which those services are provided.”

Digital Rights Watch voiced that it is “somewhat concerned” that such a provision will allow companies to leverage collected data in the system “for their own benefit, such as in order to personalize services and generate further revenue.”

On the other hand, the Business Council of Australia sees the system as a way to improve privacy by “providing government and businesses with a way to identify an individual without requiring the collection of personally identifiable information,” and support the economy, it notes in its submission.

The digital identity system would “serve as a complement to existing identity verification mechanisms, rather than a complete replacement.” By giving individuals the opportunity to choose between multiple identity providers, the system would prevent “any single entity – including government – from having too much power over [an individual’s] digital life.”

The Financial Advice Association of Australia wants to see the rollout of a digital ID system expedited, citing the benefits of enhanced identity verification to assist financial advisors in following AML/CTF legislation and KYC obligations.

It would significantly reduce the amount of personal data financial advisors would need to be stewards of, reducing security risks.

“We envisage that digital ID could replace much of the identification and verification requirements,” reads the submission, further noting it could play a future role in the use of digital IDs for businesses as well.

“Distrust of identity regimes is rife, and the federal government should go out of its way to be transparent about any contracts and tenders entered into for its build,” the association notes. In November 2023, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission issued a limited tender to build the digital ID platform, inviting only 5-10 vendors to submit a request and refusing to share if any local vendors are among them.

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