The Australian government is responding to COVID-19 with an $800 million digital business plan to accelerate the country’s economic recovery. Most of that money ($419.9 million) will go towards a modernization program that will help business move online with electronic signatures and remote shareholder voting. Additional funds are set aside for skills training ($2.5 million), electronic invoicing ($3.6 million), and the transition to 5G ($29.2 million).
However, the most eye-catching figure in the proposal is the $256.6 million earmarked for the development of a digital identity system built around facial recognition. The Commonwealth Digital Identity system would use biometrics to verify the identities of Australian citizens trying to gain access to various government goods and services. Most notably, people would be able to use the tech to log into the myGov government portal and the Australian Tax Office’s (ATO) narrower myGovID platform.
The announcement raises the usual concerns about privacy and the government’s ability to run such a massive system. In that regard, the ATO has been moving forward with its own plan to bring facial recognition to the myGovID platform, and recently issued a tender for a liveness detection solution to prevent fraud. However, cybersecurity researchers have managed to attack the existing platform with a phishing method that is yet to be addressed. It’s also unclear if the ATO’s independent program will be part of the Commonwealth Digital Identity system.
In the meantime, the government has struggled with budget creep on its digital transformation projects. In March, Deloitte took a $9.5 million contract to build a replacement for the myGov portal, but the budget has already tripled to $28 million after only six months of development.
Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency has previously indicated that the biometric component of the myGovID system would be ready for a public beta test at some point in 2020. The country’s Human Rights Commissioner has since asked Australian legislators to implement stronger regulations to prevent the abuse of the technology.
Source: The Conversation
September 29, 2020 – by Eric Weiss