‘Not a lot to show’ for Australia’s $400m digital ID programme, says former government CIO

By on 10/05/2022 | Updated on 10/05/2022
Elderly man sitting at laptop on a desk in front of a window and a dark red wall.
The digital identity system is designed to "make proving who you are convenient, easy and secure”. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

The Australian federal government’s digital ID programme, which was launched six years ago, is over-engineered and has cost too much for what has been delivered, according to the government’s former chief information officer, Glenn Archer.

Archer – who was closely involved with the early days of the digital identity programme as chair of the government authentication governance committee – also told InnovationAus.com that he “despairs” of the lack of progress on the myGov portal linked to the identity verification system and that the decision to outsource much of the work on it was a “huge mistake”.

A pilot of the identity scheme, called myGovID, was announced in 2018 and launched the following year. It was intended to allow government entitles to use the same system by replacing standalone programmes such as the Australian Taxation Office’s AUSkey system, but the programme has hit a number of stumbling blocks in the years since and costs have spiralled.

The Coalition government allocated AUS$250m (US$173m) to the programme in the 2020 budget, on top of the AUS$92.4m (US$66m) initially invested in it and a separate AUS$67.2 (US$48m) funding boost. It missed its own deadline to introduce legislation designed to underpin the digital ID to Parliament in spring last year.

“We don’t have a lot to show for it,” Archer said of the programme. “Where’s the legislation? Without that it’s less than effective. I think it has taken way too long. It’s over-engineered for what it needs to be and it has cost too much, and it doesn’t actually deliver any benefits yet.”

The system was “possibly too ambitious,” said Archer, who was government CIO between late 2012 and early 2014.   

‘Multiple identities for different governments confusing and inefficient’

The government aims to allow citizens to verify their identity across a range of its own services – when applying for passports, driver’s licences, Medicare cards and other documents or submitting tax information, for example – as well as those provided by a selection of private sector businesses.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) launched myGovID, replacing the AUSKey, in early 2020. Archer said that while the ATO had done “an excellent job” it “contrasts with the failure to make any progress on the citizen-facing aspects of digital identity”.  

It was announced in summer 2020 that a number of deliverables for the ID programme – including plans to integrate the digital identity with the myGov portal, introduce facial recognition technology, accredit private sector companies into the scheme, and run a public awareness campaign – had been delayed due to COVID-19 and usability concerns.

Read more: Australia’s digital ID project delayed

“A private beta undertaken earlier this year highlighted the need for some additional features to enhance the user experience before a broader public release of this functionality,” a spokesperson for the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) – which is overseeing the programme – said at the time.

The federal government plans to expand the programme to state and territory governments, as well as the private sector, but that too has been delayed.

“The idea that in Australia as a citizen you need to have multiple identities to deal with different governments I think is just so confusing and inefficient… it’s something I am disappointed about,” Archer said.   

Key plank of the Digital Transformation Strategy

MyGovID is a key plank of the government’s Digital Transformation Strategy – published in December 2018 – which set out its objective of allowing citizens to access all government services digitally by 2025.

The strategy made clear that it was dependent on the successful completion of the digital ID system. “One of the biggest barriers to convenient, end-to-end digital government services is having to repeatedly prove your identity online,” the digital strategy document said. “As a result, you may have up to 30 different logins for different government services. We are developing a digital identity system which will make proving who you are convenient, easy and secure.”

Read more: Australia launches public consultation on digital identity programme

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

2 Comments

  1. Marky says:

    $400m over 6 years is probably going to be a the running costs for this.

    Sounds like they could have just waited and used Cardano (ADA) as the base of the system with a phone app on top.

  2. Marky says:

    I should have added that they are missing one key ingredient to a successful system – citizens who trust the government and want to be easy to control.

    You just have to look at what has happened to “Honest Government Ad’s” to realise that any additional power held over the average person can and will be used against the average person when it suits those in control.

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