Australia passes 'dystopian' digital ID bill amid public outcry

The new legislation faces significant opposition over privacy concerns and fears it could lead to an Orwellian 'social credit' system.

Australia passes 'dystopian' digital ID bill amid public outcry
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Australia’s House of Representatives has passed the national digital ID bill, embedding the new online identification program into law.

The digital ID aims to replace physical IDs and is linked with government services such as MyGov, Centrelink, Medicare, and the Australian Tax Office (ATO).

The government has allocated $288.1 million (US$197 million) from the federal budget for the program's rollout. On May 16, the Digital ID Bill 2024 received backing from the Labor government, the Greens, and Teal independents. The bill had already passed the Senate in March.

Live minutes from the lower house showed 87 members of Parliament voting in favour, with 56 members voting against the bill. The legislation was sent to the smaller Federation Chamber for debate a day earlier before returning to the House for the final vote.

During the Chamber debate, Nationals MP Pat Conaghan highlighted the concerns of his electorate regarding the digital ID.

“They have concerns about privacy, government intervention and their freedoms. Just because I’m out the back of the bush in halls and in the corners of pubs doesn’t mean that it’s the tinfoil-hat brigade coming to see me to raise their concerns,” he said.

“These are mums and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, business owners and farmers. Everyday people out there are coming to talk to me about their concerns.”

Labor MP Graham Perrett claimed the legislation was overdue, secure, and voluntary.

“If you have a digital ID, you have a secure and convenient way to verify your identity when using online services,” he said.

However, critics remain unconvinced. Liberal Senator Alex Antic previously raised concerns about the bill’s voluntary nature, suggesting it could become mandatory as physical bank branches close. 

Another point of contention is the provision allowing a "digital ID regulator" to mandate the digital ID if deemed appropriate.

“That’s hardly comforting. It’s simply up to the regulator, to determine whether making a digital ID mandatory is appropriate or not,” Antic stated.

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts has warned that the digital ID could lead to a “social credit” system similar to China’s.

“What you can see here is a framework for a social credit system. Complete control of every citizen of Australia. Whether you like it or not,” Roberts said.

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher has defended the digital ID, stating it would reduce the risk of identity theft by minimising the sharing of personal information.

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