Australia is close to having a legislated national digital identity scheme with the federal government winning support for its bill in the Senate after approving 43 amendments.

The Digital ID Bill 2023 passed the Senate on Wednesday night by 33 votes to 26 with the support of the Greens and the crossbench.

It will now be returned to the lower house to be ticked off before passing into law.

The bill was passed with 27 government amendments and 16 Greens amendments, focused on ensuring the digital ID scheme is fully voluntary, has enhanced privacy protections, and speeds up the expansion of the scheme to the private sector.

The economy-wide digital identity scheme will now be up and running by midway through this year, a significant expansion of the existing government program which has now been running for nearly a decade.

Greens digital rights spokesperson David Shoebridge welcomed the passage of the legislation, saying that amendments introduced a “raft of important extra protections”.

“Of course you shouldn’t be forced to use a digital ID and the bill now reflects this,” Shoebridge posted on X.

“We also inserted protections for personal data, especially biometric data, and built in greater accessibility measures and a redress scheme. These are real positives.

“The final Digital ID Bill means people no longer have to share personal data and information like their birth certificate or passport every time they want to access a new service, and all in a far more secure, privacy-focused scheme with genuine protections. That’s a win.”

Changes to the bill

A key change from the government’s draft bill is the phased introduced timeframe of opening up the digital ID scheme to private sector organisations such as banks, which has been reduced from four years to two.

The amendments also introduced a reporting framework for law enforcement agencies and enforcement bodies which access or try to access information held through the digital ID scheme, and assurances that deactivated digital IDs cannot be reactivated without the consent of the individual.

The Greens amendments which won the support of the Senate focused on ensuring accessibility within the scheme and that it will remain truly voluntary.

These included that bodies participating in the scheme must still allow the use of paper documents to verify the identity of individuals who wish to do that.

The passage of the Digital ID bill has been welcomed by the Australian Banking Association (ABA).

“This will be another layer of protection available to Australians in situations where they verify their identity online, including when they are interacting with a bank,” ABA CEO Anna Bligh said.

“Digital ID will also be another important weapon in the fight against scammers.

It will make it more difficult for scammers to open false bank accounts with stolen or fake ID documents.”

How we got here

The Digital ID bill was introduced to Parliament late last year, after months of consultation.

The scheme provides a way for individuals to verify their identity in order to use certain services without having to repeatedly provide identification documents.

It can currently be used through the government’s myGovID service, and eventually individuals will be able to use a government or private sector digital identity to access services such as banking.

“This bill will provide Australians with the choice to use a secure, convenient and voluntary way to verify themselves when interacting with government and businesses online,” Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said when introducing the bill.

“Digital ID will allow Australia to harness the advances of new technology and its benefits across the economy.”

The digital identity program has been in the works since 2015 when it was launched by the former Coalition government.

More than $600 million has already been invested into developing it, with the Labor government pledging $145.5 million late last year.

It has so far operated unlegislated, with users able to access only Commonwealth services using myGovID.

The passage of the legislation will facilitate its expansion to state and territory governments and private sector organisations.