The Howard Government's $28.3m national Document Verification Service (nDVS) has done little towards its aim of combating identity theft in Australia, the Auditor-General revealed this week.
Trialled in 2006 and operational by October 2007, the nDVS was intended as a secure, online system that could verify the authenticity of identity documents in real time.
But while more than 18 months have passed since the original four-year nDVS implementation deadline, the project has met "significant problems" and is rarely used, the audit report revealed.
On average, there were less than ten nDVS transactions per day - well under initial expectations of one million daily transactions.
The system was weighed down by issues with timeliness and accuracy, with "technical issues" causing one quarter of transactions to take longer than the planned 20 seconds.
It also had failed to identify a single fraudulent document across more than 50,000 transactions from the launch of the prototype system in 2006 to November 2009.
"This does not means that the system has produced 50,000 'Yes' responses," the audit report clarified.
"Instead, 38 percent of all nDVS responses and 11 percent of the pDVS [prototype system] responses have been false negatives and 'Error' responses."
The audit report attributed the false negatives to incorrect data entry by users, or inconsistencies between details recorded on a document and the agency that had issued it - such as an abbreviated middle name.
The system was intended to verify passports, visas, drivers licenses and birth certificates via connections to the agencies that issued such documents.
These issuer agencies included all state and territory Births, Deaths and Marriages registries, Road and Traffic Authorities (RTA), the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Although original planning documents stated that these agencies would be connected to the nDVS by June 2008, many agencies in Victoria and the Western Australian RTA had yet to be connected as of February 2010.
The Auditor-General's report recommended that the nDVS be systematically reviewed by key users and its administrator, the Attorney-General's Department, to identify barriers to system uptake and formulate remedial strategies accordingly.
"These strategies may include changes to the nDVS, assisting with changes to user's systems and work practices, or considering the future of the nDVS itself," the report suggested.
"It is unlikely in the immediate future that use of the nDVS will significantly contribute to strengthening Australia's personal identification processes," the auditors wrote.