40 years ago in Australia, Bob Hawke’s Labour government proposed a National ID card. Under the pretext of reducing tax avoidance & restricting the ability of illegal immigrants to work, legislation was proposed that would make it mandatory to carry a national ID card everywhere; you would be required to show it for employment, for banks, utilities, libraries and of course to produce it on demand for the state. Resistance was slow at first but spread as fierce resistance to the idea swelled into a conflagration- a double dissolution election was called and the bill was eventually dropped.
In the House of Representatives, an ALP backbencher Lewis Kent said it was un-Australian and likened it to a “Hitlercard or a Stalincard”. Geoffrey Walker, the current Dean of Law at Queensland University said at the time, “A fundamental contrast between free democratic societies and totalitarian systems is that the totalitarian government relies on secrecy for the regime but high surveillance and disclosure for all other groups, whereas in the culture of liberal democracy, the position is approximately the reverse.” What would he say about the current State of Victoria where FOI applications are now denied, take close to 2 years to be processed or are heavily redacted?
Forty years on and things are back where they started, or more likely, worse. The National Labour government is on the cusp of presenting legislation to parliament that aims to scale up a digital ID system that has the potential to be far more dystopian in reach than anything the bureaucrats of the 1980s could have imagined. It represents an absolute power imbalance between the state and its citizens, predicated on public-private use of your data that is pretty close to irreversible and that ushers in a new global economic paradigm.
Led by a tangled web of intelligence services, domestic, international, private and public agencies, the new version of the Australia Card has fulfilled the concerns of the original protestors; despite never having been deployed, function creep is almost total. It is proposed to cover not only the provision of services from the government but those that manage the private elements of your life. Disguised by the language of inclusion and diversity, this is a system designed not to give all citizens access to financial services but to give financial services access to all citizens.
While current policy focuses on using digital ID for government services and banking, it aims to extend to telecommunications- Internet, social media, and entertainment- and eventually the entire online economy. Should this come to pass, access to basic services will lie in the hands of public-private consortiums. The potential for government overreach is enormous and will change depending on who is in power. Currently, there is virtually zero transparency over this system, no single regulator, no charter of human rights to protect the voter. Robo-debt on steroids.
The public is being told its about convenience and safety; a case of just handing your individual identity over to authorities once and then doing the rest via a mobile app. A case of ‘plug and play’–except that it’s not an online game but your life and it’s not a digital token but rather your personal identity. If a former Australian Human Rights Commissioner is worried about the laws governing this process – particularly concerning third-party access or offshore transfer of data -so should you.
In the near future, the use of digital ID with blockchain and AI will mean the entirety of your existence will be viewable at any access point to someone who has the right credentials. For now, the ATO is collecting voiceprints, Apple is collecting your fingerprints and face ID, and everyone has unique numbers attached through phone numbers, tax file numbers and director IDs, driver’s licenses, and vaccination status. There is no doubt this new dynamic ID system will continue to collect an increasing amount of information on you and will be able to create an in-depth picture of you based on this aggregated data. Your very existence will become duplicated digitally and, philosophically at least, it is an open question as to which will be regarded as authentic by the state. Two-factor authentication for everyone and everything.
This is a turning point for Australian society. The past three years should have taught us that being cautious with significant change is important. The past three years, whatever decisions one has made around vaccinations, should serve as the most immediate reminder possible that democracy left untended will die. The indifference with which a number of people seem to regard the creeping assumptions and escalating incompetency of our state and federal governments is cause for great alarm.
The power imbalance between the new corporation of Australia, a federal private-public partnership and the consumers that live in it is immense, and this development will tip the scales irretrievably. As Umbrella has most recently reported on with PwC, corporations and their capacity to conduct themselves in an honourable fashion is a concept that should have died a long time ago and while some pretend to acknowledge that fact intellectually, it has no direct relationship within our society as the cancer is metastasising at terminal speed.
High street shopping centres have been hollowed out, local manufacturing has been shipped overseas, naturally grown food is more expensive than chemically produced crap, health now comes from an injection, a prescription rather than sunlight, healthy food and exercise. Urban planning means how many apartment buildings a developer is allowed to stack in one small block and sustainable housing means less amenity and wall-to-wall living.
Increasingly quickly, our right to a healthy Australia is being stripped away from us through fear, crisis, manipulation and chaos and the distractions being offered- transgender rights, Ukraine/Russia/China/The Voice/Climate all mask the single issue- none of us have a voice in Parliament. The exact singing and dancing characters from vaccine commercials now want you to believe the Voice will magically fix 200 years of systematic oppression, dispossession, and settlement. Pfizer is in fact one of the Voice’s biggest supporters.
Environmental, health, social, and cultural damage being done by major corporations seem to be something Australians are incapable of viewing with any level of consistency. The cognitive dissonance required to use Apple, Nike, Nestle, Amazon, and Coke products and support industries like Raytheon and Monsanto while drinking single-origin organic coffee and proclaiming one’s heroic level of virtue with a status update, a flag in your bio or using the consumption of disposable goods as an ethical signal is a few sandwiches short in the sanity picnic. Between Amazon, Price Waterhouse Cooper, Mastercard and the Signals Directorate is where your new identity will live. What sane citizen wants this and who is setting this agenda?
The fundamental principles of a person existing separate to the state as a biological and spiritual entity is being treated as an archaic notion and the hostility towards independent thought running through the institutions of our country is an alarm that should be sounding deep within every home in the country. We have normalised the stifling of debate and created a country so riven with fear around dissent that the introduction of this scheme seems like a foregone conclusion.
We have a limited opportunity to impact the upcoming legislation. I am not suggesting a Luddite future or that technology is per se something to be avoided, but technology, along with government, is there to serve the people, not dictate to them. Social responsibility does not belong in the boardroom, it belongs in the beliefs and actions of the voters. Government at all levels have allowed the foxes to take over the henhouse and private consultancies and corporate money now rule the roost. People forget that it hasn’t always been this bad.
As we become reduced to mere data points in a network, government policy and services will no longer treat us like human beings. The infuriating call centres of the Noughties have now led to automated services driven by AI that will not only manage all our utility providers but government departments as well, deploying chatGPT with a similar level of contempt while multinational profits and salaries continue to soar.
We need to start finding solutions and building alliances wherever we can– a good place to start is talking with our friends, workmates and family. While we still can.
** To learn more about the upcoming introduction of a digital ID system follow Umbrella.