The Federal government calls it:
a ‘Human Services Access Card’, ‘SmartCard’ or even a ‘Consumer Card’ ...

We call it for what it is:
The proposal for a national ID card system


The announcement ­ 26 April 2006

The Human Services 'Access Card' or 'SmartCard' project was approved by Federal Cabinet on 26 April 2006. The Government asserted that the 'national ID scheme' proposal that was being developed in Attorney-General's Department has been both abandoned but also folded into this project. Yet it is trying to pretend that this is not an ID Card!

Unsurprisingly, no-one seems to believe the denials. To most people this looks like Australia Card Mark II, smells like Australia Card Mark II, and waddles like it too.

In what seemed like a 'managed leak', the story was broken by Louise Dodson in the Sydney Morning Herald and Steve Lewis in The Australian of Monday 26 April 2006, the day of the Cabinet meeting that was to approve this project. Already, by 10:28am that morning, the ABC reported that "The Australian Privacy Foundation says the introduction of a smart card will make it harder for people to protect their personal information".

The Media Release duly arrived after the Cabinet meeting that afternoon. It was accompanied by a media conference, which appears to have contained about all the information that the Government had released at that stage. The statement was that " we have decided not to proceed with the introduction of a compulsory national identity card. We are, however, very committed to the introduction of an access card for health and welfare services".

Key features of the announcement were:

The Australian Privacy Foundation issued a media release within 36 hours of the Government's announcement, saying "The new government card looks like an ID card, smells like an ID card and works like an ID card, so why isn't it called an ID card?", and explaining what information was needed to enable the proposal to be subjected to evaluation by a sceptical public. On 25 May we issued another release after Minister Hockey reneged on an earlier promise to release enough information to permit assessment of the privacy risks posed by the proposal.

(See also Quacking like a duck: national ID Card proposal (2006) cf. Australia Card (1986-87) Prof Graham Greenleaf, 12 June 2006)

Initial reaction

Most of the media coverage was sceptical about the proposal. There was known to be serious dissent within Liberal ranks.

To the question 'Should Australia introduce a compulsory ID card?', the Channel 9 Sunday Poll showed 68% 'No'. (Any such poll is unlikely to be statistically reliable, but it does show what people think when the bias in the question isn't 'service' or 'welfare fraud', but instead 'compulsory').

Budget time

It became clear that the Government had side-stepped key recommendations in the KPMG report, when the AFR reported on 8 May 2006 that the task force head had resigned in dismay, not just from the task force, but from the public service as a whole, citing privacy, security and project governance concerns. A second senior taskforce design staffer resigned shortly after. This also raised concerns that Minister Hockey's likely real reason for denying access to the reports and PIA was political self-protection.

Funding was included in the Budget of Tuesday 9 May 2006. And within 48 hours the machine swung into motion, without the head of its Task Force, without even vaguely adequate information available to the public, without a privacy strategy, and without any mechanism in place for consultation with public interest representatives and advocates.

On 11 May 2006, Hockey announced that "the technology would be able to help people meet supermarket bills when their only resources were emergency relief payments". (The idea had been floated weeks earlier, and is considered by systems designers to be ill-informed, uninformed, unworldly, or just plain hare-brained). On 12 May, Hockey also said that "the smart card could be used in future to allow welfare payments to carry restrictions, such as allowing the purchase of groceries , but not cigarettes or alcohol". On 24 May the SMH reported Minister Hockey calling it a 'Consumer Card,' which "the private sector would almost certainly be allowed to read". State governments are apparently also to be invited to dream up uses for the card and its data-relational functions.

These statements appear to make abundantly clear that the Government's policy includes approval of 'function creep', to extend the scheme to anything that 'seems like a good idea at the time'.

Function creep is the start of the 'Death March' for massive IT projects, and this alarming official endorsement of open-ended function creep as an acceptable aspect of the project adds to existing expert concerns about the technical viability and ultimate cost of the system ­ let alone the expanded scope for further risks to personal information security and privacy introduced as everyone and their dog jumps into the trough.

Analysis of media reports

Before the Cabinet Meeting of 26 April:

Immediately after the Cabinet Meeting of 26 April:

IN THE DAYS FOLLOWING the Cabinet Meeting of 26 April:

On Budget Day, 9 May 2006:

After Budget Day, 10 May 2006 onwards:


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