The Document Verification Service, initiated by the federal government five years ago but plagued by jurisdictional problems and a lack of agency support, is to be opened up to the telecommunications and banking sector for the first time.
A renewed push by the commonwealth to have Victoria and Western Australia sign up to the system is making headway, with all states and territories expected to be facilitating real-time identity checks by early next year.
With immigration documents, birth certificates and driver's licences already able to be verified - subject to the gaps in data Victorian and West Australian data - the commonwealth also plans to add details of Centrelink and Medicare cards and push for marriage and name change information to be available.
According to documents obtained by The Australian under freedom of information laws, the move to value-add the system will coincide with the service being offered to the private sector on a full-cost-recovery basis.
A briefing note prepared for Attorney-General Robert McClelland in March, outlining plans to put forward a policy proposal by November, notes that allowing private sector access will not only strengthen identity security processes but help the service achieve "economies of scale in its operations".
"The DVS provides a unique electronic verification service for organisations needing to confirm their clients' identification details across a range of documents," the briefing note states.
"Access to the service is currently limited to government agencies. Banking and telecommunications organisations have requested access to the DVS (and) indicated a willingness to pay for such a service. In the absence of DVS access, the private sector is increasingly turning to commercial identification services that strip verifications from government service websites such as passports.gov.au. These websites are not designed to support the traffic this creates.
''The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has raised a requirement for a DVS-style service to allow mobile phone providers to comply with government client identification requirements. The Australian Security Intelligence Origination, and the Australian Federal Police have also indicated in-principle support."
The service is underpinned by the federal departments of immigration and foreign affairs, allowing passports, citizenship certificates and visas to be verified, and also checks driver's licences and birth certificates via the National Exchange of Vehicle and Driver Information System and the CertValid births, deaths and marriages database run out of NSW.
At present, NSW government agencies are the biggest users of the DVS - other states are believed to have concerns over gaps in data and set-up costs - but federally, the Australian Taxation Office and the departments of immigration and foreign affairs are considering whether to become users.
Last year, the government allocated another $23.6 million to the service as the Auditor-General criticised the lack of progress with the it, one of the key planks of the National Identity Security Strategy approved by the Council Of Australian Governments in 2007.
The service is still only recording about 4000 transactions a month, although it was built to handle 250,000 requests daily, but the federal government is looking at data quality issues and how to assess and monitor its usefulness.
Keen to avoid any comparisons with the ill-fated Access Card, the commonwealth relies on strict privacy protocols and the individual's consent.
The service's users are not provided with an individual's identity information. Instead, what they present - for example, a driver's licence number - is run through the system for a yes or no response according to the accuracy of the information provided.
The commonwealth also stipulates that results from the service, managed by the Attorney-General's Department, cannot be used as the sole basis for accepting or declining services.