This page considers Australian attitudes regarding national
identification schemes, including mandatory identity cards
and the 2006 government services Access Card.
It covers -
What do Australians think about a mandatory national
identity card, about entitlement cards and about data
collection/analysis activity by public and private sector
entities? The most meaningful response to that question
is that there are no simple answers, despite claims to
the contrary from proponents and opponents of particular
In discussing attitudes to privacy we have noted that
there are often substantial conflicts between an individual
or group's expressed views and actual behaviour, both
in relation to their privacy and in relation to the privacy
of others (for example celebrities and stigmatised groups
such as 'dole bludgers', 'ethnics' and convicted criminals).
People will claim that they deeply value their privacy
but then - consciously or otherwise - trade personal information
for an opportunity to win a prize (as distinct from actually
getting the reward). Some believe that it is illegal to
take any unauthorised photograph
in a public place.
Some will express outrage over the notion of an 'identity
card', particularly one that might be scrutinised by law
enforcement agents, while meanwhile blithely using entitlement
cards and drivers licences for official and private purposes
(eg using a drivers licence as the primary proof of identity
for renting a video or gaining entry to a nightclub).
Some are amazed to discover that governments collect the
wide range of information highlighted here.
Others are unfussed. Others question rationales for a
single Access Card, on the basis they not all Australians
are welfare recipients. Some express deep anxieties about
ubiquitous identifiers such as the TFN. Some fantasise
that a government agency has a live video feed from every
ATM in Australia and that officials listen
to every phone call.
Some believe that identification schemes provide an effective
response to terrorism, identity fraud and other challenges.
Some claim that any scheme provides a fast ride to 1984.
Much of that anxiety centres on the bit of plastic, rather
than on the underlying databases.
The paucity of detailed and transparent opinion surveys
inhibits acceptance of competing claims. Few attitude
studies are peer reviewed; most are open to criticism
as strongly biased.
In an ideal world the Australian community would engage
in a dialogue about identity schemes that is founded on
rather than assertions and misrepresentation
recognition of what information is currently being collected
and is available to government
concern to provide a coherent national privacy regime
that encompasses both the public and private sectors.
a public policy perspective there has not been a dialogue.
Instead we have seen a shouting match, with sloganeering
by opponents and proponents of particular schemes, and
triumphalism on the part of particular interests.
Concentration on the chip & plastic has been at the
expense of developing an effective regime for personal
data management in general. From that perspective the
Government's chief failure has been its unwillingness
to foster a debate, instead decorating the Access Card
scheme as the "anti-ID card" without waiting
for the report by the Australian Law Reform Commission
what do people want?
What do consumers want in relation to national identity
schemes? Contrary to some assertions by identity card
proponents and critics, the answers are not clear.
That uncertainty reflects the range of stances - including
people who equate a card (any card) with 'the mark of
the Beast' or with 'late-fordist industrial discipline',
people who are familiar with digital technologies and
sensitised to privacy/security concerns, peers with the
same familiarity but without that sensitisation or with
a different assessment of benefits, people in search of
'silver bullet' solutions to complex problems.
Uncertainty also reflects situational factors. Attitudes
change when individuals are faced by a medical emergency,
terrorism or 'stranger danger' - although assessments
of risk may be quite different to realities.
There are few large-scale independent studies about Australian
consumer attitudes to privacy per se, to medical
privacy or to perceptions of risks. As with people in
most advanced economies, there appears to be a substantial
difference between stated values and behaviour.
Survey respondents and focus group participants thus typically
say that their privacy is precious and should be protected.
expressing concern about a public sector 'big brother'
are unaware of (or indifferent to) data collection and
use by the private sector, including large-scale data
profiling by credit reporting
businesses and identity referencing/vetting
assimilated identity verification requirements centred
on the 100 Point scheme
under the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988
prepared to commoditise their personal information for
a trivial reward, for example merely the opportunity
to win a small prize
between their privacy (sacred) and that of celebrities
or stigmatised groups (eg welfare recipients, those
labelled as engaged in welfare fraud, those perceived
as likely terrorists)
comprehensive action against identity fraud yet are
reluctant to take responsibility for their own actions
in identity management
malpractice in the handling of health services information
while underestimating opportunities for abuse of that
is thus possible to get substantially different answers
from a particular group, depending on when people are
asked and how they are asked. Claims that "most Australians"
welcome/oppose particular initiatives should be treated
with caution. "Community outrage" over the Australia
Card was not evident in introduction of the Tax File number.
Organisations, civil society organisations and affinity
groups have sought to -
debate about card schemes
debate for other purposes
Efforts to set terms of debate have largely avoided discussion
about the overall shape of privacy in Australia, in particular
private sector data handling. Statements by proponents
and opponents have centred on use of the Card by government
and have typically been pitched as "anti-ID card"
that "will protect privacy" versus an "Orwellian"
card that "fails the Nazi test".
Debate about the card has also been a vehicle for personal
agendas, with opportunities for people to pose as 'representatives'
of the community and to gain exposure that is subsequently
leveraged in the party room, business and academia.
Attitudes towards an Access Card reflect differing perceptions
about whether -
a 'benign' entitlements card will morph into a non-benign
the Access Card will result in better delivery of government
services to recipients
Card will substantially cut fraud against the Commonwealth
(by individuals and by intermediaries such as pharmacies)
gains for the community are substantially offset through
erosion of civil liberties
Access Card scheme costs will blow out
Card will assist public sector administration and in
particular produce benefits for individual agencies
Card is a precursor or or complement to other initiatives
such as large-scale e-health programs
Anxieties about the Access Card involve a range of
concerns. Some of those concerns are demonstrably unfounded.
Those anxieties include -
that the Card will directly enable identity theft on
an unprecedented basis, because thieves will be able
to copy detailed personal files that will supposedly
be held on that Card (as distinct from on databases
that use the Card as an identifier)
claims that the Card is part of a grand scheme by the
'New World Order' or another global organisation, a
claim that resonates with critics of globalisation and
is often associated with antisemitism, barcode and RFID
distress about ECHELON
or paranoid fantasies about aliens
that the Card "fails the Nazi test" and will
directly facilitate government persecution of particular
ethnic or other groups, although governments of course
have a range of databases that could be misused for
slope' arguments that an entitlement card is innocuous
but will subsequently refashioned as a mandatory national
points of reference
Similar ambivalence, inconsistency and confusion are evident
A 2003 Canadian survey claimed
vast majority of Canadians view the fraudulent use of
identification documents as a problem in Canada. This
perception appears to be the key driver of support for
a new ID card and for the use of biometrics by the federal
government. Opposition is higher for a mandatory card
than for a voluntary card but overall results are consistent,
with those in favour outnumbering opponents by a margin
of 2:1. While those who support the introduction of
a card far outnumber opponents, those opposed seem more
entrenched in their views. Survey data demonstrates
that exposure to pro/con arguments on biometrics had
a significant impact on support for the idea of a national
ID card. Although the majority of Canadian businesses
support the idea of ID cards, this support is largely
tepid and highly malleable. As in the general population
survey, they admit very limited awareness of biometric
technology. Yet, when supplied a definition, are largely
supportive of its use to control identity fraud, illegal
migration and abuse of government services. In fact,
4 in 5 believe it is likely all Canadians will have
at least one biometric ID somewhere to verify their
identity by the end of the decade.