Why the Government Rushed Through Controversial Identity Verification Legislation in 2023

As 2023 came to a close, the Albanese government rushed through an Identity Verification Services Bill — triggering suspicion amongst the opposing political parties and experts in the cyber security industry. Why did this legislation require such haste and why was it not paired and aligned with the upcoming Digital ID Bill? (Taylor, 2023)

Government Conducting Potentially Illegal Identity Checks Since 2019

In October 2023, the federal government pushed new identity verification legislation through the House of Representatives, and attracted the scrutiny of the Opposition. The movement drew attention to a similar legislation shelved by the Morrison government in 2019, after the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security requested that it be redrafted.

The 2019 legislation was intended to allow and regulate the government’s identity verification service, but the committee believed the proposal lacked sufficient privacy safeguards. However, after the government abandoned this plan, they continued to operate the service, without any legislation framework to monitor the process. This means the hundreds of millions of checks carried out in the last four years could be considered illegal. (Taylor, 2023)

The Legislative Attempt to Relieve Concerns Only Brought About More Questions

As the Albanese government hastily pushed through legislation that would amend this concern, there were multiple inquiry submissions highlighting unaddressed privacy issues (Taylor, 2023). These submissions also questioned why the bill was being introduced before the reformed Privacy Act in 2024.

Kieran Pender and David Mejia-Canales, senior lawyers from the Human Rights Law Centre, said, “It is extraordinary that the Australian government is, it seems, presently using identity verification services on a mass scale without a lawful basis. And it is all the more extraordinary that the Australian government would seek to rush through such important legislation, with minimal opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny, in these circumstances.” (Taylor, 2023)

Approved Identity Verification Legislation May Not Adequately Address Risks

The Identity Verification Services Bill 2023 was passed in the last sitting week of the year. Ultimately, the government had to make 38 amendments before it was approved by parliament, with Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash stating that the ‘very significant concessions’ were enough for the Opposition to support the legislation. (Hendry, 2023)

The amendments to the bill included:

  • ‘Express consent’ required for the use of someone’s identity documents
  • Alignment with data breach scheme
  • Banning the use of information captured for data profiling, online tracking, or marketing
  • The operative previsions will be delayed for six months
  • A review of the laws will be carried out after one year (Sadler, 2023)

Although the Opposition conceded, Greens Senator David Shoebridge said the amendments were ‘passable’ but ‘far from perfect’. He had proposed an amendment that would prohibit information being ‘captured or disseminated’ through the identity verification services process—but this was turned down by the senate.

“There should be clear legal constraints preventing critical information, which we’ve outlined in our amendments, ever being collected under this system, held by the government and distributed under this system,” said Shoebridge.

Shoebridge had also tried to defer the bill until early 2024, so that it could be considered alongside the Digital ID Bill, but this amendment was defeated as well. (Hendry, 2023)

The Digital ID Bill Will Provide Higher Protections

In November 2023, the Digital ID Bill was introduced to parliament. This bill will expand the existing government digital ID system to include private sector entities, legislate a voluntary accreditation scheme for digital ID providers, establish a digital ID regulator, and support more privacy and consumer safeguards. (Australian Government: Department of Finance,2023)

According to Shoebridge, this digital ID scheme includes stronger privacy protections than the Identity Verification Services Bill. “Whilst the Identity Verification Services Bill 2023 was working through one track with very inadequate privacy protections in it,” said Shoebridge, “the draft Digital ID Bill 2023, which had substantially higher privacy protections, was going through under another minister.” (Sadler, 2023)

Critical Thinking and Expert Advice Necessary When Navigating Identity Verification Legislation

When the government was operating identity verification services without a legal framework for years, it puts the reliability of these processes into question for every organisation. Not only is the legality put into question, but also the safety of using them—is the current hurried legislation enough to ensure privacy and cyber security?

For assured compliance and reliable identity verification, talk to the team of experts at Kinatico.

Kinatico does not have any political affiliation. Our intention is to educate businesses and the community about compliance implications of current and foreshadowed legislation, using information from credible sources. For this article, we used the following references:

“Digital ID Bill introduced into Parliament”. Australian Government: Department of Finance. (2023). https://www.finance.gov.au/digital-id-bill-introduced-parliament

Hendry, J. (2023, December 7). ‘Far from perfect’ face matching laws pass Parliament. InnovationAus. https://www.innovationaus.com/far-from-perfect-face-matching-laws-pass-parliament/

Sadler, D. (2023, December 7). Identity verification bill passes with 38 changes. Information Age. https://ia.acs.org.au/article/2023/identity-verification-bill-passes-with-38-changes-.html

Taylor, J. (2023, October 31). Hundreds of millions of Australian identity checks may have been illegally conducted, Senate hears. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/oct/31/hundreds-of-millions-of-australian-identity-checks-may-have-been-illegally-conducted-senate-hears