New South Wales Digital Minister Victor Dominello believes that decentralized credentials that give citizens control of their digital identity will play an important role in the future as the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds become increasingly more diffuse.
In an interview on the sidelines of the digital.nsw 2021 exhibition event, Dominello said iTnews that accreditation is one of the “big moving parts” of the government’s renewed digital strategy.
The first major update to the Beyond Digital strategy, originally released in November 2019, was released yesterday, incorporating much of the thinking that has emerged since the pandemic.
The strategy comes a few days after the Customer Service Department started. consulting on the future of digital identity in New South Wales, based on the digital driver’s license that has been available to all drivers for two years.
At the same time, the Customer Service Department has revealed plans for a personalized digital wallet that allows citizens to manage and share their decentralized credentials.
The wallet, or “credential vault,” is expected to be capable of storing government and private sector credentials, including grades, student cards, and other passes, that are verifiable.
A concept video shown at the digital.nsw event on Tuesday also suggests that citizens will have the ability to verify credentials in the future, such as a business license before merchants start working.
Dominello said iTnews that “returning power and authority to the individual is more important than ever”, and that initiatives such as locally stored credentials would help build trust.
“There is a very, very fine line between an autocracy and a democracy, and in the digital age, it’s easy for those lines to blur,” Dominello said.
“So having the ability to control your data on your phone, at your convenience, in your settings is very important to our democratic future.”
Dominello said that verifiable credentials would only become more important as the physical and virtual worlds become increasingly blurred.
He pointed to Facebook’s ambitious plans to build a virtual reality construct, called a metaverse, that would make it much more difficult to draw a line.
“In a world of augmented reality, governments will have to change their approach to determining what is real and what is not real,” Dominello said.
“People can determine for themselves what they believe to be true or not, but the government will have to enter the space of ‘this is real’ and ‘this is not’.
“So that’s another imperative time to make this piece of digital trust now.”
Dominello ruled out any correlation between the switch to decentralized credentials and the phishing attack on Service NSW last year that exposed the data of 103,000 customers.
“It’s part of the bigger picture, and you’re seeing smart carriers like Apple do the same because they can’t afford to breach trust,” he said.
“They are simply capturing the mood of the public and the mood of the consumer, and the government should be no different.
“If anything, the government should be more sensitive, not less.”
IDSupport reducing the “risk proposition”
The decentralized credentials scheme will work hand in hand with the planned identity recovery unit, IDSupport, which will support citizens who have their identity credentials stolen from next year.
IDSupport will provide a single point of contact for citizens to replace compromised identity documents and will work with other agencies to mitigate the risk of stolen credentials being used.
Dominello described IDSupport as “critical to our future” as it will mitigate the harm experienced by citizens and ensure that criminals pursue “a much higher risk proposition.”
“We will always be fighting criminals, let’s be honest. They will always get more sophisticated. This is a war that will never end, “he said.
“But one of the best ways to deter criminals is to show them that even if they break the wall, it won’t cause significant damage, and that’s where IDSupport comes in.”
The trust equation
Dominello also proposed a real-time trust barometer that would track customer sentiment in an attempt to improve service delivery.
He compared the barometer, or reliability score, to the way credit rating agencies like S&P and Moody’s assess the creditworthiness of governments.
“If we value trust in government, why don’t agencies measure the ‘trustworthiness’ of government to assess the likelihood of quality service delivery?” he told the digital.nsw storefront.
While Service NSW already has a lot of this data at its fingertips, Dominello said iTnews the concept, while still in its infancy, would become increasingly important at the government-wide level.
He also noted that an agency’s reliability score could also have implications for funding, a similar approach taken by the government under the Digital Restart Fund.
“You put a value in dollars, that is, you want money to run a program, show us the cost-benefit ratio and also show us the relationship of trust,” he said.
“This will quickly motivate the government to focus on the quality of customer experiences.”