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New South Wales Government’s push to be first to launch Digital ID pilot

New South Wales residents are slated to be the first in line to test the NSW government’s new Digital ID program, as the government announces an allocation of $2.1 billion to invest in digital transformation projects.

In early April this year, the New South Wales government published the details of the Digital ID pilot program it intends to roll out; along with details of a Digital Restart Fund; on the nsw.gov website.

The Digital ID program which is planned to be part of a Service NSW app is a cross-department whole-of-government program that will allow users to access services through facial verification and by connecting their biometric details.

The Digital Restart Fund, with the allocation of $2.1 billion to be administered by the Department of Customer Service and funds iterative, is proposed to help businesses transition to digital platforms with a multi-disciplinary approach to planning, designing, and developing digital products and services in NSW.

Service NSW Chief Executive Officer Damon Rees said in the original media release that the technology was the next step in the NSW Government’s Digital Identity journey and would open new possibilities for online government services with improved safety and security.

Rees said, “Photo verification will enable millions of customers to complete government transactions anywhere, anytime, or authenticate themselves using a photo verification login.”

According to a statement in the NSW government release, “The technology will match a photo the customer takes of themselves with a reference photo, like a driver’s licence. As soon as the images are successfully matched, the selfie and any verification data will be instantly and safely destroyed.”

The program is being put forward by the NSW government as one of ‘convenience’ to assist residents who may have difficulties accessing services.

“This will provide customers with greater accessibility to government services, especially customers with a disability, time-poor customers, and those in rural or regional areas, who are unable to or experience difficulty attending Service NSW centres,” Rees added.

In its release, the NSW government claims that any use of the photo verification technology will be ‘entirely optional’ and based on an opt-in-opt-out approach. For those who opt-in ongoing consent will be required from the customer.

“We’re now engaging with industry to find the best way to implement this technology safely and securely,” Rees added.

In November last year, the NSW government announced it was proceeding with its agenda for a whole-of-government approach towards digital identity and called for tendered submissions for the provision of two new digital identity systems: a digital proof of identity system and a digital identity sharing system.

Service NSW Digital Government Minister Victor Dominello cemented the NSW government’s push towards digital identity, in a future.nsw press conference last Monday.

Dominello said that digital identity “is the number one priority of our office because it is literally that golden thread and if we get the protections in place around it, then it will absolutely significantly reduce risks around cyber.”

He stated that “the new digital services will be faster, more convenient, and less costly to use than paper or physical alternatives and will be less prone to forgery, misplacement, or theft than physical documents.”

During his address, the Minister also announced a raft of other digital services ‘in development’ that would soon become available. These services will include digital first aid certificates to be available in the next few months, and working with children checks and education credentials are also due to be available by the end of the year.

The Minister said licences (drivers, gaming, fishing) are planned to transition to digital versions and confirmed that development was ongoing to produce digital birth certificates, downloadable versions of senior’s cards, My Personal health records (Blue book) for children, and services that will assist in tracking disabled car parks in real-time.

Others in attendance at the future.nsw conference was NSW Chief Information and Digital Officer Greg Wells, Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow, and NSW Executive Director of Digital Identity Lenka Bradovkova, who replaced the head of Digital Transformation Agency Digital Identity Juleigh Cook on the day.

Mr Santow who addressed the conference said “Digital identity is absolutely fundamental to being able to vindicate one of the most basic human rights there is. But there needs to be proper protections. You need to be able to control your own identity. If that is something that anyone can access, including those who want to persecute you, then, of course, that is unacceptable.”

Further investigation into the NSW government’s digital push shows the government has published an online consultation questionnaire“Have your say on the future of NSW.”  Noted atop the questionnaire the NSW government headlines:

“The NSW Government is building a smarter, customer-centric, and fully digital NSW.”

“We are driving innovation in partnership with industry and academia, to shape the world of 2030 and beyond, with advancements in education, health, science and technology, environmental management, future living spaces and so much more.”

The questionnaire does not offer an avenue for objectors to voice concerns over a complete digital transition.

The questionnaire does however include many keywords and timelines that are ‘telling’ signs of an apparent alignment with other world agendas and in line with the government’s draft legislation the Trusted Digital Identity Bill 2021.

As the government spruiks the convenience and virtues of digital forms of identification as a better method for physical forms, many have already voiced obvious concerns surrounding the move toward a complete ‘digital identity’ landscape.

Whilst the NSW government admits that the technology is prone to cyber-attack, many would suggest that digital information can also be controlled or wiped out by any person or agency who chooses to do so.

There are questions surrounding the security of personal and confidential information, and also relating to the potential of being left unable to prove identity, property ownership, medical history, or credentials, if digital documents were lost, stolen, or erased.

There has already been established evidence of this occurring in countries operating under full-digital control.

In September 2021 Chinese actress Zhao Wei had her ‘online existence’ completely wiped from the internet after she was blacklisted by the government for allegedly being a ‘misbehaving celebrity.’ The Wrap reported, “Zhao Wei’s movies and television programs are no longer available for streaming in China and have been missing for a few weeks. Her social media accounts are gone, too, including her fan page on the heavily censored Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo.”

The Wrap cites CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson as having reported that “the actress had run afoul of authorities after buying vineyards in France and acquiring a stake in a large Chinese production studio.”

It is not entirely inconceivable that this type of scenario could occur in other countries moving to operate on a full digital basis.

In an article by Senator Malcolm Roberts in March this year, he expressed legitimate concerns surrounding both the Trusted Digital Identity Bill 2021 and the Australian government’s push toward a complete digital framework.

The bill is “designed to act as the framework for a permanent and expansive ‘digital identity for all Australians,” Senator Roberts wrote, adding that “Digital Identity acts as a master ID, joining together previously disconnected government databases containing confidential personal information.”

“The government did not come up with the Trusted Digital Identity on their own to solve the issue of outdated government databases. As stated by the policymakers in their accompanying documentation, the Trusted Digital Identity is the brainchild of the World Economic Forum and their global digital identity roadmap,” Senator Roberts wrote.

Image Source: The World Economic Forum framework for Digital Identity and Digital Economy

Senator Roberts indicates that the government is seeking to heighten its control over the economy and to stand guard over every commercial transaction by monitoring, micromanaging, punishing, and rewarding every transaction.

“Governments do not create large citizen data collection points for no reason,” he said.

“Once this information starts being collated by the government against a citizen, it will become like a browser history session that cannot be cleared,” he added.

Senator Roberts points to further investigations of Australia’s strategic alignment with the frameworks and agendas of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and says the “WEF is encouraging domestic policymakers to ‘move quickly’ and build ‘trust’ with citizens around the secure usage of personal data, which allows extensive third parties to create digital frameworks previously forbidden by privacy laws.”

He adds, “To be clear, the WEF is the backbone from which the Australian government is drafting Digital Identity policy, and the assumptions made by the WEF to justify their recommendations are, frankly, wrong- both historically and logically. To give one example, the need for swift digitisation is based on a prediction that nationalistic tendencies driven by competition for pandemic resources will see countries isolate themselves from the global market and sink into recession. We know from history that nations do the reverse – they expand into trade after traumatic events and the less intervention from global authorities, the better as countries find their economic niches more quickly.”

According to the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda 2021 and Digital Identity Frameworks, in January 2021 it published:

“Human-centric digital identities are an enabler to alleviate the global risks of heath, movement, travel, and trade highlighted in the COVID-19 Risks Outlook May 2020.”

“While government’s role is key, regulators have understood that they don’t hold all the cards and that solutions are needed across the public and private sectors. Digital identity trust frameworks led by governments working with the private sector are emerging- defining claims for people and organisations that should be broadly recognised.”

The Australian government provides information relating to its own digital framework in its Australian government Digital Identity Consultation Regulation Impact Statement, which Senator Roberts infers is right out to the WEF’s playbook, pointing out that the government quotes its material directly from WEF’s playbook which includes material from Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation.

By all accounts, the Australian government; particularly that of New South Wales through its Digital Pilot Program; seem intent on leading Australia into an all-encompassing global digital agenda.

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