Even before the possible introduction of a national identity card, federal agencies are increasingly cross-matching the personal data held in vast government databases to crack down on identity theft-related crimes ranging from terrorism to welfare fraud and tax evasion.
The depth of personal information held by the Government has reached extraordinary levels, with the Tax Office keeping records of such details as religious affiliation and criminal convictions.
"Matching is inherently contrary to the privacy principle that (personal) information should only be used for the purpose it was collected," Australian Privacy Foundation spokesman Nigel Waters said.
The Attorney-General's Department says identity theft costs the Australian economy more than $1.1billion a year.
But privacy advocates, already concerned about the renewed Australia Card debate, believe the increased use of data matching could actually stymie the Government's efforts to combat identity theft.
They are also concerned that inappropriate information is being shared by government agencies.
Data-matching personal information between departments to improve the accuracy of identity details could create more "data quality" problems than it solved, Mr Waters said.
"Matching invariably brings major data quality (problems) as the data has been collected for different purposes."
While the largest federal government data-matching program is covered by laws restricting the use of personal information, most activity is covered by less stringent voluntary guidelines administered by federal Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis. Ms Curtis was not available for comment yesterday. (Why ??? Something to hide ???)