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NSW minister Dominello prepares to pop cork on digital identity for liquor

NSW minister for customer service and digital government Victor Dominello has given his strongest hint yet that the state will have a functional digital identity pilot up and running before the March state election, with online alcohol sales again firming as the launch pad for the ambitious project.

Brandishing an unopened, no-name bottle of red wine in a LinkedIn post, Dominello said “details of a digital ID pilot — where you can verify that you are over the age of 18 without having to provide primary documents” would be forthcoming over the next few weeks.

The creation of a state-based digital identity credential for NSW has been somewhat of a crusade for the outgoing minister, who has persistently pushed agencies and industry to deploy customer-centric digital solutions rather than those that merely suit government and business.

The recent series of prominent Australian corporate hacks, followed by huge dumps of sensitive personal data on the dark web, has acted as a catalyst for state and federal agencies to revisit verification processes that store huge volumes of copied personal identity data.

While a national commonwealth digital identity scheme for federal use is gradually being developed, states that oversee regulated business sectors, like liquor, are pushing to get their own solutions up and running more quickly.

Proof of identity for online liquor sales — specifically same-day, short-notice delivery sales — has been a selected target because of potential underage access to alcohol and the range of risks and liabilities attendant with poorly vetted transactions.

It is understood the required digital identity linkages have been ready to roll for around a year; however, key merchants in the liquor industry have pushed for the rollout because of challenges in modifying their own systems amidst a hectic schedule of Covid-related tech changes coupled with a protracted skills shortage.

Online shopping systems for major supermarkets were conspicuously caught short during the pandemic and initially struggled to process a massive switch in demand from physical to online sales, with liquor caught up in the shift to modalities like click-and-collect.

“You can buy most things online these days — all you need are a few details: your name, your address, your payment information,” Dominello said.

“However there are some transactions online — where you need to show your age. For example, buying alcohol and concert tickets.”

At a broader level, it is well known that NSW has been quietly offering to white-label its state-developed technologies to both the commonwealth and other jurisdictions in an effort to avoid the digital equivalent of technological ‘rail gauges’ for often similar systems, like licensing, transport and community services.

As the commonwealth again tries to put its digital house in order after the election of the Albanese government, that offer must be looking gradually more appealing.

This article was first published by The Mandarin.

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