CeBIT 2014: Attorney-General George Brandis wants online identity theft stomped out

Brandis said one in five Australians will experience some kind of identity theft or fraud in their lifetimes
Attorney general George Brandis opens CeBIT2014 with NSW Premier Mike Baird

Attorney general George Brandis opens CeBIT2014 with NSW Premier Mike Baird

Australia's Attorney-General, George Brandis, opened CeBit 2014 by discussing some of the challenges facing the public and private sectors in terms of identity protection.

Brandis told attendees cybercrime costs the Australian economy $1bn per year, and that identity theft is a key focus of the Abbott government, which is working with private and public sector partners, including those at state level.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) started focusing on the problem 10 years ago as part of the National Identity Strategy to Combat Crime, which was formalised in 2007.

Tombstone fraud, as seen in the Fredrick Forsyth book, Day of the Jackal has become more elaborate than its nomenclature in the age of the internet - where more information is readily available.

Brandis said that one in five Australians will experience some kind of identity theft or fraud in their lifetimes. It costs the country on average $4000 per incident, with the most serious recent case reaching $300,000. The government wastes on average 18 hours of work time per incident, and some 11 per cent of victims report mental health problems that need treatment - costing the country more.

There is no quick solution. Brandis said Australians juggle between 5 and 50 different password combinations to protect their personal and work data. It is estimated that between 20-30 per cent of service desk calls to ICT departments are password related matters - a waste of resources.

"Our traditional methods of managing online identity, are in a word, broken," Brandis said.

Not only is it a drain on resources, but sorting out the problem has the potential to stimulate the digital economy if an appropriate response can be found.

He compared Australia's approach to that of the New Zealand government, which has launched NZ RealMe, which uses trusted government logins to access public sector services.

The Australian government is currently working on a similar system, and Brandis said that the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and NZ PM, John Key, are developing plans to share ideas and produce a mutual recognition of these trust online IDs.

The Australian government's Document Verification Service (DVS), will lead the charge. It already shares 50 million public sector documents across all government departments.

The Government has started the DVS Commercial Service, which will work with the private sector here to reduce identity fraud. Brandis said there had been strong interest in the service, which already has 23 private sector users, and the first transactions have already been completed.

Particular interest has come from the telecommunications and finance sectors, where these kinds of identity protection services make it easier for banks to detect money laundering.

Telcos work with police to track pre-pay 'burner' phones that may be used for criminal activity.

Brandis said it will also eventually minimise compliance costs for businesses, and estimates that already the DVS work with prepay mobile will produce time and cost savings of up to 50 per cent when compared to traditional manual verification processes.

"DVS is a clear demonstration that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive in the online environment, they can be complementary," he said.

However, Brandis disagrees with the right to 'behave anonymously' online, but balances this against privacy concerns. These new rules will ensure that verification of ID will only occur when businesses need to - and then only for the extent of the transaction. Private customer data shouldn't go any further.

Allan Swann is a Senior Editor at IDG Communications Australia. Follow Allan on Twitter @allanswann, and at Google+.