Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Human Services (Senator Ian Campbell) to a question without notice asked by Senator Nettle today relating to a proposed access card.
I asked the government to come clean on the access card and admit that it really is the beginning of what could be a national ID card for Australians, but I did not hear that from the minister in his response. I think the facts speak for themselves to a large extent because the ID card that the government intends to issue to 16.5 million Australians—that is the government’s estimate—will be required to access all government services, including Medicare and Centrelink, so virtually every adult Australian will be carrying one.
The cards will carry extensive information on individuals, far more than was ever proposed with the controversial Australia Card, which of course the opposition proposed when they were in government. The Labor Party dropped the proposal after public opposition. The access card will include the person’s name, date of birth, gender, residential address, digitised signature, ID number, welfare status and Medicare information, as well as a range of other information, including information people choose to put on it. It will also include a biometric photograph, used in 3D facial recognition technology, allowing the image to be matched with camera scans. According to today’s Australian, some Muslim women will be required to remove their head scarf in order for such photographs to be taken.
The Greens are opposed to this ID card. We certainly see it as an ID card, because, as I said, the biometric photo and the microchip on it will contain much more information than was ever proposed with the Australia Card. Whilst the government claims that it is a voluntary card, if you need it to access all government services it effectively becomes a compulsory card. So it is really semantics to continue to try to argue that it is a voluntary card.
It is opposed by the Australian Privacy Foundation and a number of other legal and community organisations. Many of them have described the card as a major assault on the privacy of all Australians. The threat could be even greater because, as I said in my question today: what will prevent any future government from using the card and the national database of information that is associated with the card to target or crack down on Australians who express a particular political view? As I indicated in my question, Bronwyn Bishop is reported in the Australian to have asked whether the card could have been used by the Nazis to kill Jews. That is how she phrased that.
The advertised savings to the government of around $3 billion over 10 years are not firm figures. Once the costs of the implementation of the system are subtracted, we could see no financial benefit at all by adopting the card. From a security point of view, ID cards represent a double-edged sword that I think everyone acknowledges. It would make assuming a fake identity harder but would also make successful fake identities involving fake cards much more effective and therefore dangerous. The Greens are opposed to setting up a national ID card infrastructure which would threaten privacy and allow government agencies and also commercial interests to track a citizen’s status and behaviour. The access card will also pose a threat to identity security, as I said. It could effectively define a person’s identity in a way which could be very damaging if the information on the card were misused, corrupted or simply wrong, as does happen from time to time, and people accept that.
Unfortunately, the public has not had a great deal of opportunity to look at this plan because the exposure draft for the bill came out just before Christmas, and that is a busy time of the year for people to have the opportunity to have input into it. The government at the time flagged that there would be a public inquiry, but I am not really sure that the Christmas break in January should be considered a time for public inquiry.
Now, of course, we have the legislation and there are proposals to send it to a Senate inquiry, which the Greens are happy to support. No doubt, a Senate inquiry would allow the process for making suggestions on improving the proposal, but we say that no amount of tinkering can change the fundamental problem with the government’s plan. The Greens do not support putting in place the infrastructure for a national ID card, and that is what we see as being fundamental and central to this proposal. It creates dangers in terms of people’s privacy and the Greens do not believe we should go down that path. We do not think it is a path that we should be pursuing.
Question agreed to.