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Pubs, banks could be banned for asking for smartcard ID

The Age
Thursday, December 14, 2006

Comment: Notice how this is "good news" in order to sell people on the ID card. We have an ID card but if anyone calls it that they go to prison.

BANK or pub workers who demand their customers produce the Federal Government's new smartcard as a form of ID could go to jail for up to five years or be fined $55,000, under draft legislation.

Companies that demand the card would face fines of up to $275,000.

The Government's $1.1 billion access card will replace up to 17 social service cards such as the Medicare card by 2010 and will be required by anyone who wants to get government benefits.

But privacy and consumer advocates have raised fears that because almost every Australian will need one, the access card could become an ID card.

The Government's legislation is designed to address fears that the access card is an Australia card in disguise.

In what Canberra says is "probably a world first", the legislation makes the individual holder the owner of the card — and not the Government. Usually it is the issuer of a card, be it a government or a gymnasium, which owns it. But Canberra will own all the information held on the card.

And in a measure that will go some way to allaying fears of "function creep" — in which the uses of the access card are expanded beyond what was first intended — the bill says it can only be used to pay out government benefits and services.

If in the future the Government wants to use it for other purposes, it will have to get Parliament to agree.

The legislation also includes punishments for people or businesses that are found to have somehow pressured an individual to produce the card, even if they don't explicitly demand it for identification.

This would protect "elderly people and other vulnerable individuals (who) may feel threatened by powerful businesses" to hand over the card, according to the Government's explanation of the legislation.

The head of the Government's Access Card Consumer and Privacy Taskforce, Allan Fels, said yesterday that the Government had adopted his "core recommendations" on the access card.

The legislative protections meant the access card had a better chance of being accepted by the public than the Australia Card, he said.

"I think the legislation avoids a number of the problems of the old Australia Card. (The legislation says) it can't be used as an ID card — it's not required to be carried by anyone and it's also essentially limited to giving access to Medicare. It also prevents adding new functions (to the card) without legislation."

But the Government has not adopted all of Professor Fels' recommendations and each card will still have a unique identifying number and a signature on it.

"If every Australian eventually has a number assigned to them the long-term privacy implications are fairly considerable," Professor Fels says.

"It would in the long run facilitate the linking up of a lot of information about people."

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