One in three Australians still wary of sharing their data with government, even in an emergency

Facial Recognition App Government Australia

A new survey has found that nearly half of all Australians are willing to use mobile facial recognition apps to access a range of online government services – this, despite a significant proportion still reluctant to share their personal data with any public agency, including emergency services.

Strikingly, nearly one in three respondents remain wary of sharing personal information with the police, even in cases of emergency, the Unisys Security Index, a global consumer survey, found.

This is a surprising result, given the recent devastating summer bushfire season and the fact that over 57 per cent of Australians surveyed cite natural disaster as their main security concern.

A significant proportion of Australians surveyed expressed reluctance to share data with the government despite the immediate service benefits that could be gained.

More than half of those surveyed appeared either unwilling or unsure of sharing their personal data with government agencies to expedite access to services such as driver licences and government benefits.

Similarly, Unisys found Australians were only “moderately willing” – at 41 per cent of respondents – to share their travel habits with government, in this case Australia’s Border Force, to advance through airport security more quickly.

The global survey, based on a local sample of 1,000 Australian consumers, nevertheless found that individuals preferred sharing their personal data with the public agencies rather than businesses like retail traders or even banks.

More than half (56 per cent) said they were seriously concerned about identity theft, aligning with an overall increase in global security concerns, Unisys said at their highest level since the first Security Index in 2007.

According to the study, consumers make a conscious decision on whether or not to share data with an organisation based on who they might share their data with (including any third parties) and why data was being collected.

For instance, more than half of the survey respondents were unwilling to share health record data from monitoring devices with insurance companies which could provide recommendations to address specific medical issues  citing concerns that this data may be used beyond its originally intended purposes.

While no explicit reason was given for Australian’s unwillingness to share personal data with public agencies, Unisys suggested that citizens may still “fear the government may use the data for other purposes”.

Previous research suggests that Australians may hold concerns around governments’ handling of their personal data. A survey by The ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods last year indicated that Australians lacked confidence in governments to safeguard their information.

Over 40 per cent of respondents in the ANU study believed the government did not have the ability to prevent data from being hacked or leaked. Almost half of respondents also indicated that the government was not open and honest about how data is collected, used, and shared.

When asked whether or not they would use facial recognition technology to access online services, over half of the Australian contingent of the Unisys survey said were willing to use it to access online driver licence services. However, this trust appears not to have extended to the private sector, with just 36 per cent willing to use the technology to apply for a credit card with a bank online, despite banks rating among the most trusted businesses for handling consumer data.

David Chadwick, director for identity and biometrics for Unisys, explained that Australians value the privacy of their personal data.

“This impacts with whom and why they are willing to share information. The findings show that government agencies and banks have a relatively higher level of consumer trust than insurance agencies and retailers,” Chadwick said.

“The top reason given by those unwilling to share their information is that it is not a good enough reason [for these businesses to use it],” he added.

Chadwick explained that, in order to increase willingness within communities to use digital identities and grow consumer trust, government agencies must be transparent in how they collect personal data as well as how it is used.

According to Unisys, its Security Index is the longest-running snapshot of consumer security concerns conducted globally. The latest Security Index surveyed 15,000 individuals worldwide, including 1,000 Australians.