The Federal government calls it a ‘Human Services Access Card’

We call it for what it is: a National ID Card System

Frequently Asked Question No. 1

Briefly, what is the Government’s proposal?

The proposal began as a vague politician’s promise. Then the early documents were suppressed, denying the public access to the advice that their taxes had paid for. Now a large bureaucracy exists, employing highly expensive consultants to write documents. These are subject to review and cleansing by Ministerial media advisors (aka ‘spin doctors’) prior to release.

This document provides a summary of the APF’s understanding of the proposal as at mid-December 2006. It has been compiled from documents made available by the Government. (The parts in brackets are our inferences and interpretations, which we believe to be reasonable ones).

This document is largely descriptive. The APF’s enormous concerns about and criticisms of the proposal are elsewhere.

There are many elements of the proposal. The Government prefers to talk of it as a Card. The card is problematical enough, but even greater concerns arise from some of the other elements.

1. A Card

There will be between 16 million and 20 million cards.

There will be personal data displayed on the surface of the card, including your name, a photo and a signature. It will also display a card number (or is it a person number?) and a card expiry date.

The card will be a ‘smart-card’, meaning that it will contain a computer-chip. There will be a considerable amount of personal data stored in the chip.

2. An Obligation to Have the Card

According to the Minister and bureaucrats, having a card is “not compulsory”. They say that it will only be needed by people who want benefits and services. But they then define ‘benefits’ to include refunds from Medicare – which, although subsidised from taxes, is an insurance scheme with levies calculated on sliding scale based on taxable income. Moreover, many people, such as those suffering serious disabilities and the poor aged, are financially dependent on benefits paid through Centrelink.

(To people who use language to communicate rather than to mislead, the card is compulsory).

3. A General-Purpose Identifier

Everyone is to have precisely one card. The card has a card number. (The card number will be very easily used as a means of identifying not just the card, but the person).

4. An ‘Official Name’

As part of the proposal, the Government has invented the concept of your ‘official name’. It appears that most people will be forced to use whatever appears on their birth certificate. (If the Government gets away with this, you’ll be stuck with it for the rest of your life; so you’d better hope that your parents chose well).

5. Obligations to Present the Card

Everyone will be required to present the ‘Access Card’, firstly when dealing with:

  • the various government agencies in the DHS super-ministry, especially:
    • Medicare
    • Centrelink
    • Child Support Agency
  • Veterans’ Affairs, which is a separate ministry

but also every time you go to:

  • any organisation that provides health care services. That includes hospitals, doctors, clinics, physiotherapists and pharmacists (but the list is unclear and seems likely to grow)
  • any organisation that provides other kinds of ‘human services’. (That presumably includes social workers and community support organisations, but the Government’s intentions remain unclear)
  • any organisation that offers some kind of ‘concession’, such as discount prices for pensioners. That includes justabout every operator of public transport, every local council, every utility, every cinema, and many retailers as well
  • possibly any organisation that offers a ‘benefit’, at least one that the Government provides some kind of support for (e.g. it is unclear whether charities will be drawn into the scheme)

(Medicare and health care services are used by everyone; so the obligations to have a card, and to present it on demand, are being imposed on the entire population).

6. Denial of Benefits and Services

It appears that any organisation that can demand your card will be permitted to refuse benefits and services unless you present the card.

And some organisations may be required to refuse to provide you with benefits and services unless you present it.

7. Denial of Concessions

Currently, pensioners and some other categories of people are given concession fares on public transport, and by local councils, utilities – such as electricity, gas and water, and some retailers. The present arrangements are simple, because existing cards are designed to be easy to recognise. But the new card isn’t designed to display concession-rights.

8. Need to Carry the Card

The bureaucrats say that you won’t have to carry the card with you all the time. (But even a cursory analysis of the various uses of the card make clear that they’re wrong. It’s a considerable concern that there will be a great deal of uncertainty about this, especially for the chronically ill, but even for the suddenly and unexpectedly ill).

9. General-Purpose Usage

Generally, organisations in the health and human services arena may demand your ‘Access Card’. (But it seems rather unlikely that those tens of thousands of ‘authorised organisations’ will be the only ones who get access to it).

10. Access to the Data on the Card

Anyone who can see the Card can see the personal data displayed on the surface of the card, including your name, photo, signature and card-number.

It appears that any appropriate card-reader will be able to read the personal data stored in the chip. That includes a great deal more than what’s on the face of the card, and some of that data is sensitive, and for some people extremely sensitive.

Chip-readers are to be installed in tens of thousands of locations throughout the country, in various government offices, in every hospital, every doctor’s surgery, every pharmacy, and every one of the many other kinds of locations that provide health-care and other human services.

11. The Register

All of the data that’s on every ‘Access Card’, and much more besides, is to be stored in a new central databank, referred to in some of the Government’s documents as the ‘information update server’.

Here’s the list of data-items in the Register that the Government has already publicly declared, before the scheme even starts.

The Register is to include a high-resolution copy of your photo, and a ‘biometric template’ derived from it. This is supposed to assist with the authentication of people presenting the card (even though there is very little evidence to show that that works), and to prevent the issue of duplicate cards (even though such one-to-many comparisons are well-known not to work).

The entry in the Register will indicate which agencies the person has a relationship with.

The Register will include copies of some or even all of the so-called ‘proof of identity’ documents that each person was forced to produce when they registered for the card.

12. Updates to the Register

Every time a card is placed in a card-reader, the reader will provide data to the central Register. All such transactions will be logged. (The Government has provided no information, but there may be updates from other sources as well).

13. Access to the Data on the Register

It remains unclear who will have access. Mention has been made of the Privacy Act protections, but these have been hugely devalued since the Act was passed in 1988, because so many agencies have won exemptions and exceptions.

The Security Working Party supporting the project contains every intelligence agency that you’re likely to have heard of. It’s reasonable to expect that primary users of the Register will be intelligence, law enforcement and social control agencies. They don’t need additional authority to access the data, because national security and law enforcement agencies have sufficient authority already. It’s likely that all DHS agencies, and DHS itself (which doesn’t actually provide services) will have access as well.

14. Government Ownership of Personal Data

The draft Bill at s.185 declares that the Government owns the personal data about you that is stored in the chip on your card.

15. Your Registration Obligations

We are to have imposed on us a “rigorous registration process”. This will be “substantially improved”, which presumably means that it will be more difficult than the existing 100-point test that the Government uses for passport applications, has imposed on banks, and is in the process of imposing on even more organisations.

16. Obligations on Organisations

Many categories of organisations will be required to install card-readers.

Many categories of organisations will be required to demand the card, to extract data from it, to store data, and to transmit data from it to government agencies.

It appears that some of those organisations will be required to refuse benefits or services if the card is not produced. Others may be authorised to refuse if they wish. (The Government has failed to provide this critical information. It prefers to keep the public in the dark until after it gets its legislation through the Parliament).

If you are aware of errors or omissions in this document, please let us know.

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