Digital identity in Australia
While many organisations use their own mechanisms, increasingly, aggregated digital identities are in use. Many Australian organisations leverage popular ubiquitous Internet identities such as those provided by social login services including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Linked In to perform the following functions:
- Single sign-on to help users avoiding creating new user names and passwords for each site.
- To provide some basic validation of identity
- To provide some integration, especially with social media, e-mail and contacts
- To identify the natural person behind a transaction for statutory purposes such as a monetary transfer
In addition to these services, in order to validate identities in Australia additional services are used, such as government, and bank digital identities.
SIM as Digital identity
The use of a mobile phone SIM as a Digital identity in Australia provides some level of validation of the digital identity of the holder. Validation of the holder can be done by sending them an SMS to their phone number. The advantage of this mechanism is:
- SIMs are generally unique
- The mobile phone number is known to the holder, and often the trusting organisation, and used as the contact of the customer
- The mobile phone generally is carried by the person wherever they go
- There is a high penetration of mobile phones in Australia, in 2015 covering almost 80% of individuals
- There is are some Identity requirements in obtaining a SIM, so there can be a level of certainty that the holder is a known natural person, and resident (or temporary resident) of Australia even if the plan is Prepaid
For this reason the mobile phone is often used as a primary or second-factor validation of identity on Australian digital services.
myGov is a service provided by the Government of Australia that provides a strong level of validation of digital identity. It is used primarily for Government (including some state Government) and semi-Government services such as:
- Centrelink for social welfare applications and payments
- Medicare for health care
- Australian Taxation Office to enable online tax returns
- Child Support
- Victorian Housing Register
- My Health Record for Electronic Health Records
- National Disability Insurance Scheme
- My Aged Care
- Department of Veterans' Affairs (Australia) online facilities
- Australian Job Search (government job search network)
myGov also integrates with Australia Post MyPost Digital Mailbox to facilitate secure electronic document delivery, as most government departments avoid the use of e-mail to directly deliver private documents.
myGov logins also support a number of other login services especially in government such as
Origination of a myGov account can be done without the use of identity documentation, so it is possible to create an account without a valid natural person. However, as services are added, access to private information, such as documents or identity that should only be known by the individual concerned, is required, making the identity stronger. Many services require a second factor of authentication - SMS via a SIM based mobile phone number as mentioned above.
MyPost Digital Mailbox
MyPost Digital Mailbox is a service provided by Australia Post to provide secure electronic document delivery services as a digital alternative to conventional postal services. It has struggled to gain traction against bank-based services. Currently the following services are available:
- Simply Energy bills
- myGov Correspondence
- Telstra bills
- Westpac bills or statements
- AMP Limited bills or statements
- Velocity Frequent Flyer bills or statements
- Some municipal rates notices
- Some other utility bills
As for myGov, a second factor authentication is often required - SMS via a SIM based mobile phone number.
Online Banking in Australia requires digital identification. As in other jurisdictions, access to bank accounts statements and making payments are the primary services available. In addition to these, it is possible to access documents (almost exclusively bills) from other corporations online using BPAY View. Over 300 billers are supported via this mechanism.
For some transactions multi-factor authentication is required. Normally this is a password in combination with a code sent via SMS or in some cases, especially for business customers, a bank-issued security token.
Most online banking services, especially if accessing an account requires the holder to complete stringent identity requirements sometimes in a bank branch. This ensures the quality of the identity.
The four major online banking sites in Australia are:
State Government Services
Some States and territories of Australia offer access points to Government services in those states, and require a digital identity to access these services.
Service NSW is an example - an account can be created without any verifiable identity, however as services (such as Roads and Maritime Services) are added, private details need to be accessible, increasing the validity of the identity.
The South Australian government has made several digital licences available via the mySA GOV app (Driver's licence, Proof of Age Card etc).
Tax file number
The Australian Tax file number (TFN) is a 9 digit identity document issued to tax payers. There is no card or official identity document in popular use that shows this number and strict rules on its use means that it is not required to be provided, and there is no practical way a non government entity to verify the holder against the number. It is therefore not an effective widespread digital identity (unlike the US Social Security number). However it is used to digitally identify tax paying entities behind transactions via financial institutions when the number has been disclosed. Failure to disclose the tax file number can draw attention to the transaction and/or result in tax being withheld, so it is used for specific purposes.
Digital identity verification services
Identity and associated information can be verified a number of ways:
- The Australian Attorney-General's Department provides a document verification service that allows for validation of some licences.
- The Australian Attorney-General's Department also provides a bio-metric face verification service
- Visas, identity, and right to work status can be checked online through the Department of Immigration and Border Protection's Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service.
- Some States and territories allow for drivers licences, photo cards and certificates to be validated online e.g. NSW and Victoria.
- Electoral enrollment can be verified electronically, and may help to verify an identity.
- Private companies offer aggregated online identity checking services e.g. Vix Verify and Equifax
- In addition, certain aspects of individuals can be verified digitally - online, such as:
- Working With Children Check to ensure that an individual has cleared the necessary background checks to allow them to work with children. To apply for a check the applicant must physically attend an agency, however the employer can verify the check online, for the duration of employment.
- Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission ACIC allows organisations to provide National Police History Check certificates on ASIC's behalf. Some of these can be obtained online (such as Veritas), and later verified online.
- Some institutions allow the online verification of education qualifications.
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