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Australian Government Accepts Digital Identity and Monitoring Policy

by Tracy Knauer •

Christoffer Relander double exposure portrait

Australians aren’t required to carry physical ID cards. But they may soon have to carry the digital equivalent when using the Internet, according to a new policy that threatens online privacy in Australia.

On Oct. 20, the Australian government announced its acceptance of measures that would enforce a “federated-style model of trusted digital identities.” The policy has been under development since late 2014.

Proponents of the idea argue that it would help to combat identity theft by ensuring that people’s identity could be more reliably verified over the Internet. The change could also streamline the government’s ability to provide services to citizens online.

But the move would come at the expense of online privacy. If residents are forced to operate under verified identities that are known to the government, it would be much easier for authorities to monitor their online activity or censor information.

Indeed, under such a scheme, it is easy to imagine the government censoring Internet content for some people while allowing it for others — just as governments do in the offline world when denying services to certain groups of people based on factors like income, location, nationality status or past criminal records.

The policy document also mentions collaboration between the government and the private sector. That implies that companies might have access to the information needed to track Australians online. That would make it easier for private organizations to serve ads or track consumer behavior, but for individuals who just want to use the Internet anonymously, life would become much more difficult.

So far, the government’s articulation of the policy focuses on broad goals. It does not explain in technical terms what the digital-identity management program would look like (which would provide a sense of how easily solutions like Tor or a VPN could circumvent them), or mention when new policies could take effect.

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