Digital ID and AI insights: How the Albanese Government is leading the digital evolution
Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher, Minister for Finance, Women and the Public Service address to the Australian Information Industry Association on 19 September 2023.
I begin by acknowledging country to the traditional custodians, the Ngunnawal people, upon whose land we gather this afternoon and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
I pay my respect and acknowledge country at this most important time, just one month away from a national vote about recognition of First Nations people, about listening to First Nations people and about getting better outcomes for First Nations communities across Australia.
So here's to making history on October 14.
I'd like to thank the AIIA for inviting me here today.
I acknowledge everyone in the room including Simon Bush, CEO of AIIA, Greg Boorer who I've had the opportunity to reconnect with today. Thank you for being here and hosting. For Tim McKay, thank you for the introduction, very kind of you.
And I also acknowledge the number of Secretaries and senior leaders from the APS here today, including Jenny Wilkinson who I work with very closely in Finance, Chris Fechner from the DTA, Mike Pezzullo, Rebecca Skinner, Gordon de Brouwer, Gayle Milnes, National Data Commissioner. Thank you for being here today – I hope you weren't made to come along!
I am going to take the opportunity today to talk about our draft Digital ID legislation, so hopefully you're all interested in that, otherwise – sorry.
Consultation for the legislation for the exposure draft kicked off today, so this is the first opportunity I've really had to talk publicly about it.
We've been doing a lot of work on it, across government.
I will also touch briefly on a couple of other areas, if there's time, like our first Long Term Insights Briefing which Gordon is leading under APS Reform agenda, and a bit about the AI Taskforce, which Ed Husic and I announced today that will help guide work across the APS.
Now even though I know I'm talking with a very well-educated audience today, it's worth acknowledging upfront the communication challenge when it comes to explaining what Digital ID is all about, which is my job and probably one of the most essential things to get right over the next little while.
When explaining what a Digital ID is to people who haven't followed it closely – which is, let's face it, most of the Australian population - I say it's like the online version of showing someone your passport or your driver's licence to prove who you are, but it's not giving them your licence to hold on to, or to scan and store on an unknown server or photocopy.
It's simply the digital version of the act of someone looking at you, looking at your picture on your licence and being able to verify that you are who you say you are.
It's the online equivalent of being carded at the nightclub… Although it's certainly been a while since I've been carded, or even been to a nightclub for that matter.
Importantly, Digital ID is not a card, it' not a unique number, nor a new form of ID. It's just an easy way of verifying who you are online, against existing government-held identity documents without having to hand over any physical information.
And today we released the exposure draft of Digital ID legislation to kick off the next stage of work towards creating a national Digital ID system in Australia.
And I think it's important to note that as we embark on this next step, work on a national Digital ID system actually began in 2014 under the former Government and already there are more than 10.5 million Australians who have a Digital ID to access government services, including 3.5 million with strongest level of access.
We have thought long and hard about the principles that should guide an Australian Digital ID system.
And we believe it should be secure, convenient, voluntary, and inclusive.
These four areas will guide the progress of the work before us.
An essential aspect of Digital ID is that it continues to be voluntary for individuals accessing government services.
Government will need to continue t provide alternate channels for people to access services and we are committed to doing just that.
Even with a Digital ID you opt-in to Digital ID and choose each and every time you use it.
Inclusion of digital government services is also a priority for our government.
A secure Digital ID should be an option available to everyone if they choose to get it and should make life easier for those who currently have a more challenging time accessing key government services.
Digital ID can support inclusion by enabling services to move online to extend their reach into communities that don't have face-to-face services, as well as support those Australians living with a disability or who have mobility issues.
But it's also important that those less able, or willing, to get a Digital ID are not left behind when accessing government services.
We know that some people will not have the identity documents to create their Digital ID, a smart device or general access to the internet. Some people may prefer not to create a Digital ID.
There will be other channels that already exist for them to continue accessing government services like face-to-face or over the phone.
Our intent is to strengthen the system to make it more accessible and inclusive.
The current system – operating without legislation – allows people with a Digital ID to verify their identity without having to repeatedly provide copies of their most sensitive documents, such as passports, birth certificates and driver licences, for certain online services.
But the current system has limitations. It is not national – the Commonwealth can only verify people biometrically against their passports, not against their driver licence or other ID documents issued by state and territory governments.
MyGovID can only be used to access government services, limiting the choice that people may have.
And private sector providers can't currently verify people biometrically against their government-issued ID documents.
This falls short of our vision for a national, economy-wide system once fully operational.
The Government sees Digital ID as an important economic, productivity and security reform. And we are working right across Government to join all these areas up.
If I think across the Cabinet, this really touches on every cabinet minister, and in particular I work closely with the Attorney-General, the Minister for Government Services, the Minister for Social Services, the Assistant Treasurer, the Minister for Industry and the Minister for Health.
That group of ministers meets regularly to talk about all matters related to digital services across government but, in particular, in the last few months has focused on getting the Digital ID project to this point.
From a productivity perspective, we want Australians to be able to do the things that need, quicker and easier.
With a Digital ID, less time will need to be spent on personal administration, chasing down documents to prove who you are.
People are able to register for payments, get the paperwork to start a job and do their tax return in a fraction of the time it would take in a paper-based world.
One great example of this is that Digital ID reduces the time it takes to obtain a Tax File Number from 28 days to just 10 minutes!
Digital ID will also work to reduce the number of people who will experience identity crime over their lifetimes.
Currently that number is too high – with one in five Australians suffering an identity crime.
Improving safety online is a huge priority for all of us – for all of us in this room, for all of us in government and companies. We are all in the same operational environment.
Three-quarters of Australians surveyed by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner think that data breaches are one of the biggest privacy risks they face today.
Almost half of survey respondents were told by an organisation that their personal information was involved in a data breach in the previous year. And almost a third said they had to replace key identity documents.
In addition to these serious privacy breaches, never have Australians been so affected by scammers as they are right now. Last year scammers stole a record $3.1 billion from Australians – an 80 percent increase from losses in 2021.
In the last few years, scammers have become more sophisticated and their reach has spread.
Millions of Australians were affected by major data breaches in the last 12 months, such as the Optus, Medibank and Latitude hacks.
The impacts were felt deeply by customers, as businesses stored personal identity information needed to verify their customers.
And whilst the government is responding in a number of ways, including by the work being led by Minister O'Neil in cyber and also Minister Shorten whom I work closely with on government services and digital ID, a secure and trustworthy Digital ID system is one of them, with legislation that locks this system in place, and provides accountability, safeguards and oversight.
It's not just about security for individuals. Digital ID will also provide more security for business.
Business will also have a trusted, consistent, and cheaper way to protect their valued customers' information and reduce time and resources on older verification processes.
The draft bill established a Digital ID that is an Australian solution designed specifically with the Australian people, governments including states and territories and the Australian economy front of mind.
We have been watching and learning from our international counterparts – but this is not a copy and paste system from another government.
We are not a country where people are given citizenship numbers at birth, nor are we comfortable with letting the private sector be a sole provider of Digital ID.
Australians want a strong role for government just like they do for other critical social infrastructure such as health or education.
Australians across the country interact with government every day.
The ATO, Centrelink, Medicare, Veterans Affairs, and Services Australia – just to name a few – and they're accessed online.
Already many Australians use a Digital ID – their myGovID – for something as standard as completing their tax return.
We see a use for Digital ID in a wider variety of government services and as government services continue to digitise, this is only going to continue to develop and grow.
Put yourself in the shoes of one of many thousands of Australians who has recently been affected by a natural disaster. After losing your home and business to a fire or flood – the last thing you would want to do is try and hunt down original copies of birth certificates and identity documents to prove who you are so you can get an emergency payment and start re-building your life.
There are real benefits of Digital ID in other emergency situations such as when a woman and her children escape from domestic violence situations.
We're doing a whole range of things that recognise that women in a domestic violence situation aren't in a couple – and they need to get onto payments straight away and access services.
Often, women leave this situation in a crisis and are lucky to leave with a phone.
A Digital ID could allow for improvements in how we provide support and assistance in these situations.
These examples make one thing very clear – people need to be able to prove who they are and verify their identity – sometimes at a moment's notice – in an easy, safe, secure and voluntary way.
Already MyGovID is used by millions of Australians to access 130 services across 40 different government agencies.
Digital ID is complex, and the draft bill allows for an economy-wide system to be built over time as we integrate the Commonwealth, states, territories, and the private sector into the system.
Today, we have opened a three-week consultation period on the exposure draft bill. Following that consultation and depending on the level of feedback, I am still intending to aim for introduction of the final bill, this sitting year.
That is a little ambitious, but I am sticking to that program at the moment.
The bill will no doubt be referred to a Senate committee for consideration which will provide further chance for organisations and individuals to provide input and views.
The bill as it's currently drafted is structured to see the phased expansion of Digital ID, nationally and then economy wide.
This will be done in four phases:
Firstly, to legislate for Digital ID, establish the rules, the regulator and protections and continue expanding use across government and also the accreditation of public and private providers. We are calling this Phase One.
Phase Two is to allow state and territory Digital IDs to be used to access a Commonwealth services.
The third phase will be to allow myGovID to be used in the private sector; for example, myGovID could be used to open a new bank account with an Australian bank, or verify you when signing a telco contract or real estate lease.
Fourth will be to allow accredited private sector Digital IDs to verify you when accessing some government services. This will be the fourth and final phase.
Based on the work we have already done on the Digital ID project, it tells us that there are three things above all else that people care about with Digital ID: trust, data protection and choice.
Building on the vision for a Digital ID system that is secure, convenient, voluntary, and inclusive, the legislation that will be introduced into the Parliament will address trust, data protection and choice.
It will establish the governance arrangement for the Digital ID system including establishing the regulator, with the ACCC as the interim regulator.
It will have powers to: accredit entities against the Digital ID rules, undertake compliance and enforcement activities, provide approval for services to join the ID system to access identity services.
The legislation will include additional privacy safeguards with an expanded role for the Information Commissioner.
This will give the Information Commissioner enhanced powers to regulate privacy-related aspects of Digital ID and will provide additional protections and assurances for people's privacy.
For example, ensuring that accredited entities:
- obtain express consent to share identity information;
- delete biometric information when no longer needed;
- and do not use identity data for direct marketing purposes.
We will enshrine in legislation the accreditation arrangements that will apply to public and private organisations that want to participate in the Australian Government's Digital ID system.
These will be underpinned by a Digital ID trustmark for accredited providers so that there is confidence in the system.
The legislation also provides for the appointment of a Data Standards Chair, to provide technical standards to support the operation of the system and the accreditation scheme.
This next stage of consultation on our legislation is being held with members of the public, industry, stakeholders, and privacy groups.
I know that many in this room have been interested in understanding how the government plans to proceed and what the next steps are.
We want to work with you because the success of the national Digital ID will rely heavily on the strength of the partnership between government, the private sector and experts like yourselves.
Your feedback will inform the government of any changes or improvement that need to be made before we introduce the legislation into the parliament by the end of the year.
And this will be particularly crucial because we will get one crack at passing this legislation through the parliament, and I know all too well how difficult this process can be.
Just onto a couple of other issues quickly in the time allowed, I thought I would just touch very briefly on how we are also responding to emerging technologies across the APS.
We see the role of technology as a complement to the work that people in the APS do across the country, every day.
We want technology to support the work of the public service, but should never forget that people are at the centre of what we do and what we are here to do.
And this is something we are aware of when considering the role of emerging technology.
It's a balancing act to harness the best we can from the technology while establishing boundaries and safeguards.
AI is one such technology that requires us to get on the front foot, and establish some practical guidance to agencies.
Today my colleague Ed Husic and I announced that we have set up an AI Taskforce to help ensure government agencies can use AI in a safe and responsible way. It's going to create the necessary guardrails for the use of AI in public service, and provide important advice, direction, and tools for agencies to leverage the technology safely.
AI has the potential to improve productivity within the APS and make government services better for Australians.
But we also need solid plans to guard against emerging risks as well.
The Taskforce will look at the risks and benefits of the use of different AI systems within the public service.
Complementing the work of this taskforce, we are also close to releasing the first Long Term Insights Brief.
This was announced as part of our APS reform agenda – where we began a series of regular Long Term Insights Briefings, bringing together experts within the public service, with community, academia, industry and the not-for-profit sector on specific long-term policy challenges.
The first briefing is due to be published shortly on how AI might affect trust in public service delivery.
Four key findings that came out of the first Insights Briefing on AI and trust that will be released publicly soon are:
- Firstly, that artificial intelligence must be designed and implemented with integrity.
- Secondly, that using artificial intelligence shouldn't come at the expense of empathy. Design of services and use of technology needs to understand that we are dealing with individuals with their varying circumstances. While Robodebt didn't use AI, it did use automated decision making and the lack of empathy in the application of this approach had disastrous consequences
- Thirdly, that artificial intelligence should improve the performance of public services
- And fourthly, the final insight takes a truly long-term view, and that like much technology, AI will become ubiquitous and as such we need to invest in building AI literacy and digital connectivity of all people in the community as in time it will be integrated into many services, if not all.
This points to intelligent and considered use of AI – not just wall-to-wall carpeting of a service with AI and failing to consider the human at the centre of the interaction.
These insights not only will inform development of government policy, but also organisations dealing with government should consider these, and think how they can inform your approach to what solutions you develop and offer to government.
If you're doing business with the government, it's important that you can get the insights into what experts and community have told us about our country's big policy challenges and opportunities – and to that end, this Insights Briefing will be shared and published online soon.
I know I've pushed through quite a bit here in a short amount of time, so I thank you for your patience.
But I am determined to see through to establishing in legislation an Australian Digital ID system. It's been 8 years of work in progress and many of those years without progress.
But when I meet in boardrooms across Australia this is always an issue that is consistently raised with me.
It's going to take a lot of work dealing with those for and those against and it's an important part of my job to sell the benefits of Digital ID and respond to concerns in a mature way.
I'm not pretending it's going to be easy. It's not. If it was, it would already be in place by now. There is a reason it started in 2015 and here we are in 2023 at the exposure draft stage.
But it's a more than worthy project with huge benefits for individuals, business, and the broader economy.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today and I look forward to working with you to make a national Digital ID system a reality.