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digital identity

To find who’s leading the world on digital identity, look Down Under

Robert Schukai, MBE  Global Head of Design, Digital Identity Solutions

Robert Schukai, MBE  Global Head of Design, Digital Identity Solutions

Australia has made tremendous progress in the digital identity space, though concerns related to privacy protection and digital inclusion remain.

In 1985, the idea of an Australian national identity card was raised as a means of bringing together government services under a single umbrella. The intent was to tackle issues such as welfare fraud and tax avoidance.  Legislation was put forward in 1986, but was met with significant opposition. Ultimately, the “Australia Card” was shelved.

In the years that have followed, Australia has flirted with national identity schemes, but none have taken hold.  Today, as in many parts of the world, Australians use a variety of means to establish their identities, including the “100 Point Check”.

Having spent several years observing the evolution of digital identity across the world and particularly in Australia, I and others I work with at Thomson Reuters have become students of the market, consumer attitudes, the government response, and quite simply, the opportunity that digital identity provides.

I recently spent another week in Canberra and Sydney, meeting with a variety of people on the topic. I spoke with people from the federal and state governments, banks, payment providers and the technology community.

The current landscape of digital identity

Like many countries in the world,  Australia has had a start-and-stop relationship with identity. Lately, it has seemed to me that the stars are aligning as a result of a number of factors:

  •  The rise of identity and payment fraud
  • The availability and acceptance of technologies that can tackle some of these issues
  • A published trusted digital identity framework, and
  • A willingness for public-private partnership to address these challenges head-on.
The setting sun reflects on office buildings in Sydney's central business district REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
The setting sun reflects on office buildings in Sydney’s central business district. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Privacy and digital inclusion

Clearly, there are going to be headwinds along the way.  Most notably, a delicate balance must be maintained between protecting consumer privacy and maximizing the potential value of digital identity initiatives and capabilities, such as the government’s new Face Verification Service.

While Australians are already embracing features such as Apple’s FaceID and voice biometrics in their smartphones to access both government and banking services, they have the right to demand transparency around how these services are used and how their information is managed.

This balance is precisely what I think Australians will require and expect from digital identity frameworks in the future:  The ability to better control how their attributes are used, while respecting that certain regulated transactions – such as crossing a national border or opening a bank account – will require the submission of a set of mandatory information.

Importantly, considering Australian citizens who lack access to the latest mobile devices, service providers must establish secure mechanisms for identity proofing at all physical points of contact (for example in bank branches or government service offices), both at the time of on-boarding and for each future transaction.

What does the future hold?

The future holds great promise for the establishment of robust digital identity frameworks.  I foresee an evolution from the “sledgehammer” approach we take today to one that is much more use-case specific.

As an example, to purchase alcohol legally, a person will typically provide some form of legal documentation, such as a driver’s license, to a shop clerk.  However, in that moment, he or she is actually sharing information in excess of what’s necessary.  The shop clerk only needs to verify three things at the time of purchase:  Is the person of legal age (not their birthdate), does the photo approximately resemble the customer, and is the document being held in possession actually valid.  They don’t need to know his or her name, address, or any additional details listed on the license.

Such oversharing of information will be much easier to address when we move from paper/hard card licenses and documents into the digital age, where attributes will be verified against “golden source” databases, such as those held by the government or banks.

While challenges continue to exist, Australia is, without question, set to lead the world in the digital identity space.  Citizens, governments and companies are ready to leverage the current positive market climate around digital identity, and embrace the opportunity to better protect against identity fraud, preserve consumer privacy, and grow the economy as a result.

A sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) feeds in a tree in Sydney, April 6, 2008. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz
A sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) feeds in a tree in Sydney, April 6, 2008. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

Learn more

Hear more from Bob Schukai on digital identity and other disruptive technologies impacting the financial sector at the Australian Regulatory Summit, on April 11, 2018 in Sydney. For more information on the agenda, speakers and on how to register, visit the summit website.

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