Understanding identity

Identity is a complex network of interconnecting processes, relationships and credentials. Key identity concepts are described below.

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Types of identity

Legal identity

Your legal identity includes the basic characteristics of your identity, including your name, sex, and place and date of birth (refer to UN Legal Identity Agenda, UN Operational Definition of Legal Identity). 

These core identity characteristics don’t change, or change very rarely throughout your life. These characteristics are unique to you and make you distinguishable from someone else.

In Australia, legal identity begins when your birth is registered or through the record of your immigration. A ‘commencement of identity’ (COI) document is then produced. COI documents include birth certificates produced by the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages (NSW BDM) and citizenship documents produced by the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs (‘Home Affairs’).

Your legal identity is used to access a range of legal entitlements and is checked by many government agencies and businesses to confirm who you are before providing you with products and services.

Transactional identity

Businesses and government agencies often create a customer profile when you first visit them.

Many organisations will give you a transactional document that links you to your customer profile so they can provide you with products and services more quickly.

Transactional documents:

  • Are often relied on as evidence of your identity as they demonstrate your activity within the community (your ‘community footprint’).
  • They can provide you with ‘authority to act’ (a driver licence allows you to drive, and a passport allows you to travel).

Transactional documents that use strong identity-proofing processes rely on legal identity documents as proof of your identity, and those that include your photo are more ‘trusted’ than other documents. They include driver licences, photo cards and passports. Other organisations often rely on these trusted documents as evidence of your identity instead of your legal identity documents, such as your birth certificate.

A ‘digital identity’ is also a form of transactional identity that allows customers to access services online. An ‘identity provider’ relies on existing legal and trusted transactional documents to confirm your identity and establish your digital identity. Digital accounts can allow the reuse of the identity information you have previously provided so that you don't need to keep providing evidence of your identity.

Identity relationships

Identity relationships

You are the ‘owner’ of your identity. Organisations have different relationships with your identity. All are responsible for keeping your identity information secure, including you, and for helping you recover it if it is stolen.

Producers of identity

‘Producers’ establish legal identity, amend it, and retire it when someone passes away. They issue commencement of identity documents. Producers include NSW BDM, which produces birth certificates, and Home Affairs, which produces permanent residency and citizenship documents.

Issuers of identity

‘Issuers’ rely on commencement of identity documents to issue high-quality, trusted transactional documents that include a photograph of the holder. They include Transport for NSW (TfNSW), which issues driver licences  and photo cards, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which issues passports, and Home Affairs, which issues visas and ImmiCards. These documents are used very commonly in the community.

Consumers of identity

‘Consumers’ include service delivery agencies (such as Service NSW) and businesses that rely on legal identity documents and transactional documents as evidence of your identity. They may give you a transactional document, such as a Medicare card or credit card, or issue you with an online account or digital identity so that they don’t have to re-verify your identity each time you visit.

Protectors of identity

‘Protectors’ are responsible for making sure your identity and personal information is safe from theft across a variety of organisations and documents. They also help you restore your identity if it is ever stolen. Protectors include law enforcement, such as the NSW Police Force (NSWPF), and the Information and Privacy Commission NSW (IPC). Protectors work closely with Producers to protect your information.

Identity producers and issuers, and consumers

Identity management

Identity management includes many processes and involves ensuring accurate personal information is entered into government records.

Robust identity management is a key line of defence against identity crime.


Registration of a newborn child (NSW BDM) or recently immigrated individual (Home Affairs) in Commonwealth Government records.


Update of a person’s legal identity when they register a change of name or sex.


Closure of a person’s legal identity following death, or when reissuing a commencement of identity document due to identity theft.


Confirmation a person is who they say they are. Customers are required to provide various documents (e.g. driver licence, passport, utility bill) as proof of their ‘community footprint’.

This occurs at each stage of the identity lifecycle.


The details on documents provided as proof of identity are compared to the records held by the government agency that issued the document. (The NSW Government often does this through the Australian Government Identity Matching Services.)

Identity management processes

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