Over 1,000 private entities are using Australia’s document verification service


The federal government in early 2014 launched the commercial element of its Document Verification Service (DVS), a national system that allows organisations to compare a customer’s information with a government record.

The online system is managed by the Department of Home Affairs.

The DVS matches government-issued identity documents — such as passports, birth certificates, or drivers licences — directly with the government organisation that issued them and allows for checks in real-time to determine if the document is current and not lost or stolen.

As at 31 January 2020, there are 1,177 organisations using the DVS.

Of these, 1,080 are private sector users.

As detailed by Home Affairs in response to questions on notice taken during a round of inquiry from the Senate Select Committee on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology last month, DVS private sector users have a handful of access criteria they need to meet to qualify.

Firstly, the entity needs to be based in Australia and operate subject to the Privacy Act 1988, or be based in New Zealand and operate under New Zealand’s own Privacy Act 1993.

It needs a legal authority or requirement to collect, use, and disclose personal information, or have another “reasonable” need to use the service; and the entity must also obtain a person’s consent before seeking to verify their personal information via the service.

During the committee’s probe into the opportunities that fintech and regtech present to Australia, Home Affairs was asked for a list of who exactly has access to the DVS.

Rather than provide a list of users, the department listed the industry sectors its users represent. They are: Banking and finance; telecommunications; real estate, conveyancing, and legal services; vehicle hire and equipment leasing; energy and water utilities; education and training; accommodation and hospitality; mining and construction; retail and transport; agriculture and forestry services; and healthcare and social assistance.

In most cases, DVS match results will return simply a “yes” or “no” answer to verify a record.

However, as detailed by the Australian government’s IDMatch, in some cases, a government agency may also request additional information, such as the individual’s name or photo. The agency requires a legal authority to collect this information.

Home Affairs is currently responsible for the operation of a central hub of a facial recognition system that will link up identity-matching systems between government agencies in Australia.

The Australia-wide initiative will eventually allow state and territory law enforcement agencies to have access to the country’s new face-matching services to access passport, visa, citizenship, and driver licence images from other jurisdictions.

The initiative comprises two parts: The Face Verification Service (FVS), a one-to-one image-based verification service that will match a person’s photo against an image on one of their government records, while the Face Identification Service (FIS) is a one-to-many, image-based identification service that can match a photo of an unknown person against multiple government records to help establish their identity.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) in October declined to recommend the passage of Australia’s pair of Biometric Bills, with there being bipartisan agreement that the privacy safeguards were not sufficient in their current form.

The committee instead requested the Identity-matching Services Bill 2019 be completely redrafted.

While the Bill is back in the workshop, DHA is chipping away at having its biometric database ready to go, in anticipation of being able to use its additional surveillance powers.

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