Australia Must Prioritise Budget for the Digital Economy

Paul Warren-Tape

In the 2024 Australian Federal Budget announced last week, a further $288 million will be provided to the government’s digital identity. This brings its total funding to nearly $1 billion over the past decade. 

The funding will be split up across government agencies that includes:

  • The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) received $155.6 million over two years for its work on myGovID and the relationship authorisation management service. 
  • ATO will share $23.4 million of this allotment with the Department of Finance and Services Australia to pilot the use of government digital wallets and verifiable credentials. 
  • Services Australia receives $46 million over two years to operate and improve the identity exchange.
  • Finance will get $35.2 million over two years to help run the program. 
  • The Attorney-General’s department will receive $11 million over four years to work on the credential protection register. 
  • The Treasury will get $7.8 million over two years to support data standards.
  • The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has landed $5.6 million for its privacy oversight role.

Digital ID coming this summer

The announcement comes ahead of the launch of legislation around the digital identity scheme, expected to occur in July of this year. The Digital ID Bill 2024 passed the Senate in late March after the government agreed to more than 40 amendments, focused on ensuring that the scheme is fully voluntary, contains improved privacy protections, and has a fast-tracked expansion plan for the private sector.

Announcing the new funding, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher referenced the recent ClubsNSW data breach, saying that this incident showed “how important it is to help Australians reduce the risk of identity theft”.

“Accessing services online with a secure Digital ID restricts the oversharing of personal information and means there are less copies of your ID data and documents out in the world,” Gallagher said in a statement.

According to the funding commitment, there is “$23.4 million over two years for the ATO, Finance and Services Australia to pilot the use of government digital wallets and verifiable credentials”.

Revisiting the ClubsNSW data breach

A Sydney man was charged with blackmail over alleged threats to share the personal information from more than 1 million patron records of multiple clubs in NSW and ACT in a reported data breach. The breach involves a supplier of sign-in and identity capture technology used by the venues.

But why are ClubsNSW storing your driver licence details in the first place? In NSW, patrons must be at least 18 years of age to enter a licensed venue and drink alcohol. In line with responsible service of alcohol principles, anyone who appears to look under 25 years old needs to provide proof of age when entering a licensed venue or buying or consuming alcohol from that venue.

The frustrating part is that technology exists today that is already being used for age verification. It’s just not being embraced, mostly from the lack of appropriate legislation and guidelines across different industry sectors. 

IDVerse’s technology, for instance, is already being used for same day alcohol delivery, where all we do is prove an individual is over 18 by getting them to present a government issued photographic identity document, verify that document is live, present, and authentic (rather than a tampered with, fake, or a GenAI forgery), and that the individual presenting the document is over 18. The only information we share back with the relying party, e.g. ClubsNSW, is that the individual is over 18 and all other information is removed, i.e. we do not need to store the copy of the drivers licence to evidence that an age check was performed. 

IDVerse’s technology was also featured in a recent ABC story about age verification technology. Additionally noting that IDVerse was the first private organisation to get accredited under the Government’s trusted digital identity framework.

So do we need to invest further money to solve this problem? No. Our solutions are already available that have been designed with privacy at the core. 

Do we need a federal Digital ID? 

That is debatable. In any case, it should only be one available option, rather than the only option available to Australians. 

At IDVerse, we believe inclusive digital identity systems have the power to support underserved groups in society. By removing barriers that lead to exclusion, digital ID systems can ensure that as many people as possible have access to life-enhancing products and services.

The allocation of $23.4 million for piloting government digital wallets and verifiable credentials is a proactive step towards enhancing identity security, and the budget allocations to Services Australia and the Attorney-General’s Department highlight a holistic approach towards ensuring the efficiency and security of the Digital ID ecosystem. By prioritising privacy and supporting data standards functions, this funding reinforces the foundation of trust upon which Digital ID relies.

Why not invest in the digital economy? 

The necessary technology solutions exist today. So why are we not investing in the digital economy and Australian-founded businesses who have a proven track record in preventing identity crime and fraud? 

What we should be doing right now is leveraging technology that is available today, to protect all Australian’s identities. I couldn’t agree more with Minister Gallagher’s statement around oversharing: “Accessing services online with a secure Digital ID restricts the oversharing of personal information and means there are less copies of your ID data and documents out in the world.” 

About the post:
Images are AI-created. Prompt: A tech startup employee with green hair, wearing glasses, a hoodie, and jeans, stands on top of the Australian parliament house in Canberra holding an Australian flag. Tool: Midjourney.

About the author:
Paul Warren-Tape is IDVerse’s GM for the APAC region. He has 20+ years of global experience in governance, operational risk, privacy, and compliance, spending the last 10 years in pivotal roles within the Australian financial services industry. Warren-Tape is passionate about helping organisations solve complex problems and drive innovation through encouraging new ideas and approaches, whilst meeting their legislative requirements.

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