myGovID to begin facial recognition trials

The Digital Transformation Agency is hoping to begin publicly testing the new facial recognition component of the government’s essential services app by mid-2020.

myGovID, which is set to move from public beta to live later this month, will become the default option for identity verification when accessing most government portals.

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This screen is set to change. Photo: myGovID

FACIAL RECOGNITION

The facial recognition component of the Commonwealth’s myGovID app will likely begin public testing this year, according to the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).

Chief Digital Officer Peter Alexander revealed the timeframe in a recent senate estimate, but stressed the DTA wanted to get the all-important biometric feature right before introducing it:

“This is about getting it right because the biometric is so important that we do need to make sure that this is successful.”

The ‘biometric’ refers to the facial recognition component of the Australian Taxation Office’s myGovID digital identity credentialing app. The ATO is the government’s exclusive identity provider.

myGovID, expanding upon the familiar myGov system, has spent the last nine months in public beta, currently allowing citizens to create a digital identity that can then be used to log into a limited range of online government services.

It currently works like a digital equivalent of the 100 point ID check by using the ‘Document Verification Service’ to grant access. The new incarnation will incorporate the ‘Face Verification Service’ to verify identity documents like passports, Medicare cards and driver’s licences.

For citizens to access more confidential services, under what the DTA calls identity proofing level three (IP3), they will be required to use facial verification and ‘liveness detection’ in the app.

Alexander said that while the facial recognition component has been trialled with test groups of citizens and has been shown to work, the feature has not yet been used publically.

Since September 2018, the DTA and ATO has been testing liveness detection software from IDEMIA  to check if a person is real by prompting them to move their head between a series of points.

The moves signal yet another key advancement in an ongoing shift towards biometric identification normalities in Australia, which have seen a swift uptake in the past five years.

DIGITAL IDENTIFICATION

Australia’s digital identity strategy has cost the federal government more than $200 million so far in the push to make identities and individuals “more monitored, observable and accountable.

Two mobile apps built on the DTA’s Trusted Digital Identification Framework (TDIF) have recently now been released to consumers after five years of testing. The apps, myGovID and Digital ID, are developed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and Australia Post, respectively.

The technology uses ‘one-to-one matching’ by verifying an individual’s face against an identity document such as a passport or driver’s license, before accessing online government services.

The quiet rollout of two government-owned digital identity platforms is a signal Australia could soon see a full launch of the concept, which similarly mirrors the concept of the failed ‘Australia Card’.

Currently, the DTA is at public loggerheads with one of Australia’s most influential national security policy think tanks, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), over claims the digital identity rollout needs strict legislation to stop a Chinese-style social credit system.

A report from ASPI has found weak legislative protections, a lack of attempts at communicating the changes to the public, and the potential for the ID to “turbocharge” how private companies gather details about customers could mire the reform in controversy.

ASPI says weak controls over businesses using the scheme risk laying the groundwork for an Australian, for-profit version of China’s social credit scheme by using networks of CCTV and databases to monitor citizens, the think tank said in the report released in 2018.

The DTA has previously rejected concerns that the programs will be a repeat of the doomed Australia Card, instead arguing that it will be “privacy enhancing”.

Despite surveys suggesting that fewer than one in four Australians have a strong understanding of digital identification, the push continues to introduce it as soon as possible.

A key component of this scheme will be facial recognition biometric capabilities, which have also seen a large increase in the every day life of Australians citizens. It is only set to expand further.

BIOMETRICS IN AUSTRALIA

A multitude of systems are being developed across a variety of industries and avenues of Australian society to monitor, analyse, judge and identify individuals for ‘safety and security’ reasons.

This includes all states and territories handing over driver’s licenses and passport photos for national identification, allowing for real-time facial recognition when matched to CCTV footage.

The use of biometrics is increasing due to a combination of globalization, developments in information technology and the desire to identify and track individuals.

Australia’s leading privacy and civil liberties organisations have previously called facial recognition plans “incompatible with a free and open society”.

Despite this, the government is pushing ahead by continuing to introduce a plethora of biometric systems across society — against calls of many privacy campaigners and groups.

The Australian government has stated their intended goal is to automate 90% of air traveller processing by 2020, and has already replaced passports with facial recognition capabilities.

New revelations have revealed Melbourne authorities are also using CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities across the CBD, while Perth has already begun their surveillance trial.

Let’s not forget that underpinning the Chinese society credit model are readings from a sophisticated network of 200 million surveillance cameras, which rank citizen behaviour accordingly.

The DTA say they have been working through “technical issues” to ensure the quality of the facial recognition component is “exactly where it needs to be” before release.

Could you imagine? To access online portals of the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink, Medicare and other key services, citizens will be required to hand their faces over to a national database.

Who controls this data? What are they doing with it? Can you really trust them? Australia is certainly creeping one step closer to a biometric dystopia with each passing day.


RELATED CONTENT

Australia’s digital ID biometric capability to move into public testing mid-2020 | MSN.com

Facial recognition aspect of government’s digital identity program | The Mandarin

National Digital ID: Australia’s $200 million push | TOTT News

Australia: The Biometric Surveillance State | TOTT News

China’s ‘Social Credit System’ will reach Australia | TOTT News



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