This page considers the future of national identification
schemes in Australia.
It covers -
Establishment of the TFN and federal privacy legislation
was followed by -
suggestions for a general purpose national identity
registration scheme and for purpose-specific identity
cards (eg a photo ID card for Victorians under that
state's Working With Children legislation)
of purpose-specific cards at the federal level (eg the
Maritime Security Card)
towards enhancement of existing schemes (eg trials of
Medicare smart cards as part of the MediConnect/HealthConnect
national health registry vision)
of a range of registers (eg the Australian Childhood
Immunisation Register) and agencies (eg tertiary students
enrolled in education, community and public health and
human service courses require clearance by the federal
that the federal privacy regime was being vitiated through
under-resourcing of the Privacy Commissioner's Office
(or merely a complaisant attitude to perceived breaches)
and introduction of national security legislation
for a discrete, multi-purpose national identity card recurred
in the mid 1990s, after 9/11 and in 2005. Proponents within
government, business, community groups and solution vendors
typically encompassed a photo ID card - of varying degrees
of 'smartness' - that would
as a tool against terrorists or even "prevent terrorism"
use of false and multiple identities that a UK government
report claimed "are used by organised criminals
and in a third of terrorist-related activity"
action against illegal working and immigration abuse
public services are used only by those with a proper
with advocates in the UK for example claiming that a
smart ID card would ensure British citizens were able
to travel freely across Europe.
Given claims that Australian government consideration
of national identity schemes is a diversion to distract
community attention from embarrassments such as the DIMIA
scandal it is worth noting that most governments have
reviewed or indeed implemented schemes during that period.
A 2004 Canadian government report (PDF)
are the existing problems with Canadian identity documents,
particularly 'foundation' documents such as birth certificates?
What should be the guiding principles for a national
strategy on identity documents?
Which level(s) of government should be responsible?
Do we need to create a new national identity card, or
can the security features of existing “foundation”
documents be strengthened?
What has been the experience of other countries with
national identity cards?
Should everyone in Canada be required to carry a secure
identity document at all times? Or should the
identity document be voluntary for some (eg Canadian
citizens and permanent residents) and mandatory for
others (eg refugee claimants, foreign students, or other
What information should be imbedded in the cards, who
should be able to access that information, should the
information be stored centrally, and what safeguards
would be required to prevent misuse?
What technologies are available for enhancing document
security and what issues are raised by the use of particular
technologies, such as biometrics?
How much would a national identity card cost?
What savings would be realized by introducing such a
card (eg reduction in crime related to identity theft)?
do people want?
What do consumers want in relation to national identity
registers? Contrary to some assertions by identity card
proponents and critics, the answers are not clear.
That uncertainty reflects the range of stances - including
people who equate a card (any card) with 'the mark of
the Beast' or with 'late-fordist industrial discipline',
people who are familiar with digital technologies and
sensitised to privacy/security concerns, peers with the
same familiarity but without that sensitisation or with
a different assessment of benefits, people in search of
'silver bullet' solutions to complex problems.
Uncertainty also reflects situational factors. Attitudes
change when individuals are faced by a medical emergency,
terrorism or 'stranger danger' - although assessments
of risk may be quite different to realities.
There are few large-scale independent studies about Australian
consumer attitudes to privacy per se, to medical
privacy or to perceptions of risks. As with people in
most advanced economies, there appears to be a substantial
difference between stated values and behaviour.
Survey respondents and focus group participants thus typically
say that their privacy is precious and should be protected.
expressing concern about a public sector 'big brother'
are unaware of (or indifferent to) data collection and
use by the private sector, including large-scale data
profiling by credit reference
assimilated identity verification requirements centred
on the 100 Point scheme
under the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988
prepared to commoditise their personal information for
a trivial reward, for example merely the opportunity
to win a small prize
between their privacy (sacred) and that of celebrities
or stigmatised groups (eg welfare recipients, those
labelled as engaged in welfare fraud, those perceived
as likely terrorists)
comprehensive action against identity fraud yet are
reluctant to take responsibility for their own actions
in identity management
malpractice in the handling of health services information
while underestimating opportunities for abuse of that
is thus possible to get substantially different answers
from a particular group. Claims that "most Australians"
welcome/oppose particular initiatives should be treated
with caution. "Community outrage" over the Australia
Card was not evident in introduction of the Tax File number.
A 2003 Canadian survey claimed
vast majority of Canadians view the fraudulent use of
identification documents as a problem in Canada. This
perception appears to be the key driver of support for
a new ID card and for the use of biometrics by the federal
government. Opposition is higher for a mandatory card
than for a voluntary card but overall results are consistent,
with those in favour outnumbering opponents by a margin
of 2:1. While those who support the introduction of
a card far outnumber opponents, those opposed seem more
entrenched in their views. Survey data demonstrates
that exposure to pro/con arguments on biometrics had
a significant impact on support for the idea of a national
ID card. Although the majority of Canadian businesses
support the idea of ID cards, this support is largely
tepid and highly malleable. As in the general population
survey, they admit very limited awareness of biometric
technology. Yet, when supplied a definition, are largely
supportive of its use to control identity fraud, illegal
migration and abuse of government services. In fact,
4 in 5 believe it is likely all Canadians will have
at least one biometric ID somewhere to verify their
identity by the end of the decade.
Earlier in this profile we suggested that the 1980s Australia
Card proposals failed through lack of political will,
disagreement within the federal bureaucracy and poor marketing
in the face of campaigning by an articulate and energetic
advocacy group that shaped the terms of debate but did
not necessarily represent the views of most of the community.
That experience provides one model for the future.
statements by federal bureaucrats about the shape of
a potential national card scheme, with confusion about
"a master database"
disagreement among federal ministers about the need
for and technical viability of what was tagged by critics
as 'Australia Card II'
by the Queensland Premier and others that the Card would
have a major impact on terrorism and fraud
that the Card would be wholly without benefits, would
facilitate identity theft and would represent "East
Germany on steroids"
by state governments to strengthen occupational registers
and introduce new photo ID cards and registration requirements
in particular sectors (eg for anyone working with children)
exposure in the mass media of underlying questions about
the shape of privacy legislation, existing national
security frameworks, spent convictions and private sector
2005 we accordingly commented that it was likely that
a discrete 'Australia Card II' would not get off the ground,
with several functions instead being fulfilled by a second
generation health card that is linked to a scaled-down
version of the federal government's ambitious HealthConnect/MediConnect
scheme (including the UHI).
Bruce Arnold's discussion of the 2006 Access Card in Privacy
Law Bulletin questioned the Human Services Minister's
fatuous claim that the new card would be "a smartcard
not an ID card", one protected by an "anti-ID
Information will continue to be collected and aggregated
by different government agencies (potentially facilitated
through further exclusions in the 1988 Privacy Act
and associated legislation). We can expect an expansion
of services such as CrimTrac and state sex offender
registers, along with new services such as AusCheck.
(Access Card FAQs)