The Guardian 14 February, 2007

Lies & deception:
A few Access Card myths

Anna Pha

The Coalition Government has gone to great lengths in its draft Human Services (Enhanced Service Delivery) Bill 2007 and on its Office of Access Card website to keep the public in the dark, knowing full well that a national identity card would be totally unacceptable to the public. Instead, it has decided to phase in the card and centralised collection of data, using misleading language to disguise its real purpose. The legislation is worded extremely loosely, is even contradictory in parts and opens the way for unprecedented levels of surveillance and phasing in of an ID card through the use of ministerial powers and by omission of basic safeguards in the bill. The following are some of the misleading and dishonest claims made by the government in the draft bill, its explanatory notes and media website material.

Claim 1: The Access Card is voluntary

Technically there is no legal requirement to hold a card but in practice, as Anna Johnston, former Deputy Privacy Commissioner in NSW, points out: "Unless you’re extremely wealthy and can afford to live without Medicare or PBS subsidised medicines, or never seek any assistance from the government, you will need a card.

So first of all, it’s not really voluntary, and the government is budgeting on the assumption that 16 million adults will get a card. The database however will have information on children as well, so that’s 20 million, the whole population."

The "choice" being offered here is the sort of choice that workers are given when an employer says "sign the AWA or no job". Here no card means no government services.

The way the bill is worded it could mean no federal or state government services. It could mean no subsidised child care, no bed in a public hospital or nursing home, no PBS scripts from the chemist, no pension, and possibly no government subsidised place at a university.

This type of consent is known as "coerced consent".

Claim 2: "Access Cards are not to be used as national identity cards"

The card’s purpose, according to the draft bill, is "to facilitate the provision of benefits, services, programs or facilities to some or all members of the public (whether under Commonwealth law or otherwise), where that provision involves a participating agency".

Six participating agencies are specified: the Department of Human Services, Medicare, Centrelink, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Australian Hearing Services and Health Services Australia Ltd.

So what do these agencies need on the surface of a card? A name would surely be sufficient. The inclusion of a unique identification number, photo and signature — as specified in the bill — only reduce security and increase the possibility of identity and other fraud. After all, the agencies handling the card have the rest on file and could access the same information on the chip using a card reader linked to a computer.

There is only one reason for locating a photo, number and signature on the surface of the card: for use as an ID card with other organisations and businesses such a employers, banks and real estate agents. The addition of the number opens the way for businesses to record and use it when linking with other data banks such as credit agencies.

The explanatory material accompanying the draft bill explicitly says cardholders will not be required to produce their card for identity purposes except "when accessing Commonwealth benefits or to prove entitlement to other concession benefits"(emphasis added). This means that where either State or Territory governments or private enterprise are providing concession benefits an individual may be required to produce the Access Card. "This will inevitably result in the Access Card being widely required as an identification card", the Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner warned in its submission to the government on the draft bill. They will no longer have a separate Veterans, Pensioner or other card.

One of the objects of the bills states: "Access Card holders are permitted to use their Access Cards for such other lawful purposes they choose". The Explanatory Material gives as an example using the card as a "convenient proof of identity document". What is the difference between this and being used as a national identity card?

Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty gave the game away saying that "a single card would assist in defeating one of the biggest growing crimes in the world, not only in Australia, and that’s identity crime". It can only do that if it is used as an ID card.

Claim 3: Not able to be required outside health and social services (an object of the act)

When cardholders front up for a job, open a new bank account, or wish to prove eligibility for a concession, they must provide identification. The Access Card will have replaced key cards such as the Health Care, Pensioner, Medicare and Veterans Affairs cards. Of course, if you drive, you might still be able to use your driver’s licence in some situations. The driver’s licence is an example of the type of function creep that will occur with the Access Card. Its use has gradually extended to one of a de facto ID card.

Banks and airlines in particular, are looking to be able to use the card as an ID card. It leaves wide open the amount and nature of information collected on the register and on the Commonwealth area of the chip and the circumstances in which it is lawful to demand production of the Access Card for provision of goods and services.

But it is not just the card that is of concern, there is the register which is a centralised data bank, that could be used for a multitude of other purposes — conscription, intelligence operations, taxation, etc. The public will not know what is collected, how it is used, let alone who is using it.

Claim 4: Reduce fraud in relation to the provision of Commonwealth benefits

"There have been recent suggestions in the media that the Government is going to introduce a national identity card. I can assure that this is not the case. We do not support the approach where all personal information is centralised on one database, and a single form of identification is issued. This could increase the risk of fraud because only one document would need to be counterfeited to establish identity.

"Instead, we support the use of a range of acceptable documents, with the ability to verify those documents quickly and simply. This approach strengthens our proof of identity process and mitigates the risk of identity fraud."

Those words were spoken by Attorney General Philip Ruddock in his opening address to the Australian Smart Cards Summit on June 29, 2005. They are backed up by experience overseas.

Privacy International (PI) is a global privacy and technology watchdog, that has for the past 12 years studied the implications of ID cards. "Privacy International’s research into the implications of national identity cards has established that these initiatives have no effect on the reduction of crime or fraud, but introduce additional problems of discrimination, criminal false identity and administrative chaos", PI reported when commenting on plans for an ID card in the UK.

Privacy International’s Director, Simon Davies, warned, "The technology gap between governments and organised crime has now narrowed to such an extent that even the most highly secure cards are available as blanks weeks after their introduction. Criminals and terrorists can in reality move more freely and more safely with several fake "official" identities than they ever could in a country using multiple forms of "low-value" ID such as a birth certificate."

Criminal use of fake identity documents does not necessarily involve the use of counterfeiting techniques. In 1999, a former accountant was charged with obtaining up to 500 UK passports under false identities. The scam was merely a manipulation of the primary documentation procedure. This situation, warns Privacy International, will extend to ID cards. "… the card number is a unique identifier, and as such a powerful tool facilitating data matching, linkage and aggregation of datasets. The protection of the number will be vital", the OVPC said in its submission to the government’s Taskforce. Use of the number on the telephone and internet raises all sorts of security problems. The security is nowhere near as strong as the protection of the tax file number.

The legislation provides for cards being sent to people by post!

Claim 5: "Individuals will own their Access Card"

"… the Access Card will truly be YOUR CARD and you control the extent to which it is used", the government claims.

This is one of the central claims by the Howard government. It has a reassuring feel about it as though you will be in control of your card. This is nonsense. At best you might in theory own a piece of plastic, which can be recalled anytime by the Human Services Secretary. "It is not intended that ownership of the physical card also vests ownership rights in the information on the chip of the card", the government says.

The bill does not even provide the cardholder access to any of the information held on the Register or the Commonwealth area of the card.

As for the extent to which the card is used, the cardholder will have some control in certain situations, but the cardholder has no control, not even knowledge of what is held on the Commonwealth’s part of the chip on the card and has no access to what is being collected on the Register.

Claim 6: No centralised data base holding information in one place.
Privacy and security of data is protected

The Register is a centralised database holding significant information on all Australian citizens and residents. The draft bill remains silent on who can access this register and leaves it open for the Human Services Departmental Secretary to add further items without scrutiny by Parliament.

The bill gives the Secretary wide powers to authorise people to exercise powers under the bill including accessing and changing information in the Commonwealth area of the chip. This includes people who are not Commonwealth employees such as doctors, pharmacists and other people in the medical, aged care, welfare and other areas.

The bill fails to specify who can have access to the national Register. It would appear the Secretary could give access to any agency or business — public or private — for whatever purpose he or she wishes. This leaves the way open for intelligence, police, military, taxation, banks, and other private sector operators to gain access to these records. The public need never know.

The Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner points out that there is no restriction on Common­wealth agencies transferring personal information of Australians. "Private sector organisations are permitted to use personal information for direct marketing", the Commissioner’s office says.

Commonwealth officers are beyond prosecution for misuse of information!

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