​Digital identity plan fails privacy sniff test

Privacy experts have belled the cat on the federal government’s national digital identity plan warning that not enough has been done to examine its privacy implications.

Privacy experts that CSO spoke to stopped short of labelling the plan as a digital Australia Card but made clear they were wary of the government’s approach to implementing the scheme.

The Financial Services Inquiry (FSI) laid down the blueprint for the scheme in recommendations contained in its report, which it delivered to the federal government in December 2014.

The federal government accepted that recommendation in its response tabled in parliament yesterday.

he FSI, led by former Commonwealth Bank CEO David Murray, recommended the establishment of a digital identity framework that would cover both public and private sector bodies.

However, privacy consultant and immediate former Australian Privacy Found chairman, Roger Clarke, warned that the government’s track record handling identification schemes meant that it was likely to end up creating a digital version of the Hawke government’s controversial Australia Card abandoned in 1987.

“There’s every reason to expect that any identification scheme that is dreamt up within this framework will be designed to be general purpose from the outset, in which case it’s very distinguish it from the Australia Card.

“Alternatively, as agency after agency, and industry sector after industry sector seeks to use that identifier that the chances of sustaining a separation in our lives in dealing with different organisations – which is what preserves our privacy – is really very low,” Mr Clarke said.

Mr Clarkes added that the Murray-led inquiry was overly focused on achieving government and business aims and barely touched on privacy, suggesting such concerns would be handled in an ad hoc manner if it all.

David Vaile, executive director of the University of NSW's Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, was also alarmed at the lack of attention given to privacy. He noted that the inquiry had not done or was yet make public any kind of privacy impact assessment for its scheme.

Mr Vaile said the government should have pushed for a more complete exploration of the privacy impacts of the scheme before accepting the FSI’s recommendations.

However, Mr Vaile’s concerns about the scheme went further.

“Is anyone willing to give an undertaking that there will be legislation to sue for privacy invasions?” Mr Vaile asked, pointing to laws that the government promised but failed to deliver before introducing its controversial metadata retention laws earlier this year.