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Australian government partners with postal service for ID assurance overhaul

Neil Merrett Published 19 May 2017

Government seeks to integrate the post office’s identity technology with its systems to support single federated solution to access public and private sector functions


The Australian postal service has announced it will be partnering with the federal government to provide its identity technology to a solution for accessing online services in the country.

In a statement, Australia Post said it would be working with authorities to develop a proof of concept to enhance existing systems to gain secure access to services both online and over a counter.

The solution will seek to integrate the postal service’s Digital ID platform with the government’s existing Commonwealth Digital Identity Framework that outlines standards and partnerships to underpin a federated system of ID providers.

With a growing number of governments investing and putting weight behind in-house digital transformation bodies and planning, identity assurance is among key challenges facing efforts to handle a growing number of online transactions. 

Ahmed Fahour, managing director of Australia Post, said the agreement was designed to provide greater choice and control to key government services and healthcare functions. 

Fahour said that millions of transactions with the government and private sector required at least two forms of ID to be presented by an individual to prove who they are, creating a time consuming process for all involved.

"We envisage an identity solution, like Digital ID could unlock significant benefits for everyday Australians doing business with government," he said.

"Our research shows these processes cost the Australian economy up to $11 billion a year in proving identity alone, and can be unlocked by making it easy, safe and secure to prove that you are who you say you are when interacting online," Mr Fahour added.

As a counterpoint to Australia, the UK has in recent years opted to build the GOV.UK Verify platform that was classed as a live service last year with development underway to try and build a current user base of around one million people. 

GOV.UK Verify aims to allow users to select one of several pre-chosen companies to perform a check on their identity in order to access online services at a level of assurance (LOA) 2 security standard. This equates to a level of assurance for identity services that would stand up in a civil court. 

However, questions remain about Verify's wider suitability for mass use as a single identity solution that could be used to access local government, care and even private sector functions like financial services.

Releasing its manifesto this week, the Conservative party pledged to push forward with Verify’s rollout so that it can be used to access all online government services by 2020, should it be returned to power.

While in government, the party had initially aimed to have 25m users by 2020.  At present, it supports just over a dozen online services provided by a number of departments and has 1.27m registered accounts.  However, this figure is not understood to relate to an exact number of users, with it possible for an individual to have multiple accounts.  

Jerry Fishenden, the former co-chair of the independent Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group (PCAG), earlier this month called for a “reset” of the government’s thinking of identity solutions, particularly GOV.UK Verify due to the amount of time and funding put into the programme.

"It's time that the Verify platform, other 'competing' initiatives such as the updated Government Gateway, and the underlying work on an identity assurance framework are subject to an open, honest and fundamental reset," he said at the time.

In March, the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report on GDS' work that looked at a number of key projects such as Verify and how it was impacting data sharing and online service access.

"Our review shows that GDS could have done more to understand the existing landscape of department services to support their early work on identity assurance for individuals. For example there was no full analysis of how existing services identified customers or analysis of the way in which customer data is held in existing services or how this might affect the user journey from Verify to completion of the service transaction," said the findings.

The report argued that undertaking such research would have given an improved understanding of how to meet the identity needs of departments and public sector bodies to improve take up. The report added that major questions remained over the platform's capabilities for wider use in the public sector, such as by NHS bodies.

Related articles:

Manifesto commits Tories to Verify

Privacy and identity expert Fishenden calls for Verify rethink

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