Redesigning Digital Identity – Australia’s Trusted Digital Identity Framework

May 26, 2021

Your name is your first identity. As you grow older, your employment details, marital status, and even social networking preferences become a part of your identity. Now, with the help of biometrics, you can also be identified with your thumbprint or retina scan. While you would like to believe that you are unique and that there is no one quite like you, the fact of the matter is that if you have ever used the internet, even to open an email account, you have created a digital twin. This digital twin is your digital identity (digital ID).

The Centrality of Digital ID

Thus, your digital ID will comprise any or all your personal data that exists online and can be used to identify the real you. This information can be grouped into two broad categories: your digital attributes and your digital activities. For example, your digital attributes could include your date of birth, medical history, bank details, etc., while your digital activities could be anything from your online purchase history and search queries to your likes, comments, and shares on social sites. These pieces of information, either separately or combined, can be used to identify you.

Inarguably, your digital ID is a treasure trove of information that can unlock seamless access to banking, healthcare, education, government benefits, and several other critical services. However, along with myriad benefits, digital ID also engenders risks and the potential for misuse. Thus, if the true socio-economic potential of digital ID is to be harnessed, it is important to create a trusted ecosystem built in accordance with a robust and holistic digital identity framework.

The Digital ID Framework

Several countries across the world, such as Australia, Estonia, Finland, and Canada, have either implemented or are in the process of creating a centralized digital identity system. In Australia, the Digital Transformation Office is creating a trusted digital identity framework to lay the groundwork for a centralized digital identity solution. The aim of the framework is to create an ecosystem of trust where the government and businesses can easily authenticate the identity of individuals they engage with and allow individuals to have greater control over the privacy and use of their data while also verifying the credentials of the institutions and businesses they transact with. In order to achieve this, the Australian government, in collaboration with the private sector, is developing a Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF) to support the Government’s Digital Transformation Agenda.

The Guiding Principles of Australia’s TDIF

  • User-Centric: The framework needs to ensure that individuals and institutions can access digital services in an easy, convenient, simple, secure, and trusted manner. Furthermore, it should also give individuals the flexibility to create a digital ID from a range of accredited government and private sector providers and use one or more Identity Service Providers (ISPs) to maintain separate or merged personal and business digital IDs.

  • Voluntary and Transparent: Most importantly, the framework should give individuals the freedom of choice and control over the access and use of their digital ID. This means that individuals should be given a choice to opt in and control their digital ID. Further, Accredited Participants should be mandated to maintain records of credential use and make these records easily accessible to those authorized to review them under TDIF.

  • Service Delivery-Focused: The Accredited Participants should offer choice and convenience of uses. Furthermore, the cost of participation should be neutral to users. This means creating a supporting business model that will also encourage private sector participation.

  • Privacy-Enhancing: Privacy and trust are central to a centralized digital identity ecosystem. Thus, the framework should ensure that personal information is only collected and disclosed by Accredited Participants with the consent of users and in accordance with privacy laws and good privacy practices. Users should have an informed understanding of how their personal information is being used and protected and should be empowered to manage their personal information, i.e., correct errors, change/update the information, and even revoke consent. Furthermore, relevant privacy-enhancing technology, policies, and processes should be embraced.

  • Collaborative: Considering that the framework is being established for the wider benefit of the entire ecosystem, it is imperative to encourage active collaboration between the public and private sectors and the broader community. This will ensure that the respective strengths and expertise of the government and businesses are optimally leveraged.

  • Interoperable: Interconnectedness with other Trust Frameworks and identity services nationally and internationally will ensure that the benefits of the ecosystem reach maximum individuals and institutions. Furthermore, it will also enable scale and future growth.

  • Adaptable: The framework should be both adaptable and flexible. This will ensure that it is able to quickly respond to the evolving community expectations and changing business, technology, legal, and social needs. It will also enable the ecosystem to adopt innovation in technology and business models.

  • Secure and Resilient: Personal information should be well protected and secure from the threat of misuse and fraud. Thus, accredited participants must meet stringent government security standards and ensure that all cybersecurity and fraud-related risks are proactively identified and mitigated.

The TDIF aims to ensure that all individuals have seamless access to critical services and that the highest standards are being followed to maintain data privacy and security. Such a framework is an essential building block for creating a centralized national-level digital ecosystem while safeguarding individuals’ digital identities. The true value of digital ID can only be harnessed if these standards and principles are implemented well.

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