The Digital Transformation Agency will integrate myGovID, the government’s digital identity tool which uses biometric authentication, with six myGov services through a series of pilot programs in the next 12 months.

It is a significant step in the DTA’s digital identity program, which has so far had only limited testing and roll out. The agency says an effective digital identity program could reduce the time taken to deliver government services from months to hours.

myGovID is the Australian government’s own digital identity service (the broader digital identity program also includes identity services from the private sector). Operated by the ATO, myGovID allows users to upload photos of identity documents to prove their identity initially and then uses device biometrics for future log in to services, essentially digitising the traditional 100pt ID check.

So far the public beta has only included two government services, both from the ATO. In March the program was awarded another $67 million to “accelerate” the program’s development, bringing total funding to nearly $190 million.

Today in Sydney, DTA executives revealed the agency is planning to integrate myGovID much more broadly with health, education and welfare services, and introduce new features including a dynamic “selfie” tool, which uses facial recognition to confirm ID against passport records.

The six pilot services to trial myGovID over the next year are My Health Record, Youth Allowance and New Start, Grants Management, Tax File Number, Unique Student Identifier, and AUSkey Interim Solution.

Opt in

Jonathon Thorpe, head of digital identity at the Digital Transformation Agency, said the integration of myGovID would save citizens reconfirming their ID to different government agencies but, importantly, there would always be alternatives and digital identity would be opt in.

“This is opt in, this is entirely voluntary,” Thorpe said during a presentation at Navigate, an identity governance conference hosted by SailPoint.

“This is all about making sure services that are easy to access. If you don’t want to do this, you can go back to the shop front to prove who you are. [But] we think there’s a more convenient experience that you can trust is probably something people want to use.”

Jonathon Thorpe, head of digital identity at the Digital Transformation Agency. LinkedIn.

Thorpe said the gradual expansion of services and the ecosystem will offer citizens greater utility and convenience, a more effective way of enrolling users than a government mandate.

Both the federal and state governments are now organising services around user journeys and life events rather than the traditional approach of services being tied to specific government agencies. Thorpe argued a robust digital identity system is fundamental to that whole of government approach to services.

He gave examples of the services needed by new parents or new students, both processes that currently take several weeks and require multiple instances of identity verification across different agencies, primarily because government agencies don’t yet have the capability to share citizen’s information.

“We think digital identity might make that a bit easier,” Thorpe said.

“We think we can reduce that time, and our target is an hour. So prove who you are, do that online, and get the things you need and share the right information with the services you’re actually trying to sync.”

Next Level ID

Thorpe also shared a demo of the “next level of identity proofing” currently being tested behind the scenes.

“This is actually taking what we call a selfie and checking that biometrically against your passport photo, on a phone. So It involves quite a lot of technology. 

“This is a world leading approach. We haven’t found anyone [else] doing this yet.”

Thorpe’s demo showed an individual using a phone camera to take a series of photographs, tilting their head in specified directions to “join the dots” and prove it is an actual person and not a photograph being held in front of the camera.

When the identity system is satisfied it is a live person it goes through a “face verification service” via the Department of Home Affairs and using existing passport photos at the passport office, which also stores the biometric.

“This is the strongest identity proofing we can do digitally at the moment,” Thorpe said. “Key point here is we don’t store the biometric and we don’t even store the photo … The user is in complete control of their data. We only store the minimum identity attributes and we only check what we need.”

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