Malcolm Turnbull

Cloud passports 'honey pot for identity thieves'

Online, or cloud, passports could one day replace physical travel documents, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has suggested. Source: AAP

An IT expert has cautioned the government about pursuing innovation after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggested passports could one day be replaced with an online version.

Cloud passports could present identity thieves with a "honey pot" of biometric information ripe for the taking, an IT expert says.

Australia is working with New Zealand towards one day having passport-less travel, Foreign Minister Julie
Bishop confirmed earlier today. 

The 'cloud passport' would involve storing identity and biometric information online, which would replace the need to carry a physical passport. 

But IT consultant and University of Technology Sydney fellow Rob Livingston told SBS News it was almost impossible to make cloud storage completely safe.

"One could argue if there is a complete, unique individual where a combination of things like facial recognition and fingerprints are stored, that support documents would not necessarily be needed," he said.

"The bigger issue is how that information is being protected, which is a significant risk, especially when cyber terror threats are very real."

Mr Livingstone said hacks of cloud storage services were an almost daily occurance and cuts to government department budgets and ineffective IT departments opened up significant risks in the storage of any sensitive data online.

"If our credentials are stored in the cloud...it presents a honey pot for people wishing to steal the attributes of Australian citizens," he said.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has placed a significant emphasis on encouraging technological innovation in Australia.

But Mr Livingston said we needed to be wary of innovation, unless carefully thought through. 

"We have to be mindful that unleashed and unlimited enthusiasm is not necessarily a good thing," he said.

"The theory and the reality of these things don't always play nicely together."

He said the reality of storing the biometric data of millions of Australians in a secure way could be very difficult and expensive for the government.

As a worst case scenario, Mr Livingstone said the theft of the biometric data could be used to steal people's health records and banking details, along with other information stored online.

"With any innovations in technology there are advantages and disadvantages," he said.

"You have to ensure the risks and the downstream consequences are meticulously thought through."

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