When you consider the wealth of personal info online, it's hard to grasp how a proposed identity card caused such a furore in the 80s.The Australia Card was pitched by the Hawke government in 1985 as a way of weeding illegal immigrants out of the workforce and cracking down on welfare and tax cheats.
All adults, permanent residents or working minors would be issued with an individual card bearing an identity number, name, photograph and signature.
Initially non-controversial, the card became to be seen as a tool for intrusive big government to keep tabs on people and access their bank accounts and personal data.
Facing an immense public and political backlash, the Hawke Government failed to get the laws needed for the card through the Senate and ignominiously abandoned it in 1987.
"It was really the politics of it that got out of control," recalled Susan Ryan, the Hawke minister tasked with overseeing the scheme shortly before its demise.
Cabinet papers for 1984-85, released by the National Archives, reveal the Hawke government was plainly aware of the logistical problems it faced in implementing such an unprecedented scheme.
But when cabinet first considered it in June 1985, the increased tax revenue to be gained from such a national ID system looked very attractive.
If done correctly, the Australian Tax Office believed a scheme of "high integrity" could lead to revenue gains of $150 million in the first year, and $800 million annually after three years in operation.
But then health minister Neal Blewett told cabinet that pushing the tax benefits alone would be hard to sell, so they fell back on a timeless whipping boy to boost public support for their plan.
Illegal immigrants could be identified by the introduction of a national ID card, the government argued, because workers would be required to show employers their personal card.
The then Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs estimated this in turn could free up 60,000 jobs for legitimate job seekers and help combat welfare fraud.
But confirming the identities of approximately 16 million people was never going to be easy in an age where so few people held passport and citizenship records.
The government recognised that the more inconvenient and costly it was for somebody to sign up, the less likely the scheme was to enjoy wide support.
One suggestion that all eligible Australians come forward and apply over the counter was deemed too costly and annoying, while matching people using several government databases had its own problems.
The third option was to simply use existing cards from the Health Insurance Commission database of 15.8 million people, which covered almost the entire population.
This approach would be the cheapest and quickest, but cabinet was warned the HIC database wasn't linked with other government systems and revenue gains would be low.
Nonetheless, cabinet agreed in September 1985 to task the HIC with planning, developing and implementing the scheme within four years.
A photograph would not be included, despite cabinet being told they were crucial to helping protect the new cards from outright fraud, forgery and tampering.
To appease privacy concerns, its purpose would be enshrined in legislation and its use by private businesses would be prohibited.
Ryan said that before the 1987 election, the Australia Card was not a particularly controversial idea.
Even though legislation for it failed to clear the Senate in 1986, most people thought combating tax and welfare fraud with a national identity system was a sound plan, she said.
But that all changed after the 1987 election, when suddenly the ID card became one of the most fiercely controversial and divisive issues in contemporary Australian politics.
"Suddenly this bushire of fear, fear mongering, hostility came up," said Ms Ryan, adding it was a middle class revolt.
Rumours circulated that the card would empower the "intrusive centralist government" by letting it access bank accounts and erode personal freedoms.
Trying to set the record straight, Ryan found herself at a town meeting near Hobart being confronted by a "middle-class account type".
"He'd heard that as well as the photo ID, people were going to have 666 - the mark of the devil from the Bible - stamped on their foreheads," she said.
"It was mad. It was a very unedifying debate."
Regardless, Ryan recognised there were "genuine" concerns about privacy, an issue she said never featured highly on the agenda of the Hawke government.
Then there were the logistical problems. Even without needing to photograph everybody in Australia, it was going to be "very, very difficult" to get the scheme up and running by July 1989 as planned.
If not implemented properly, the Australia Card ran the risk of inviting further fraud instead of clamping down on it.
Cabinet was warned that similar schemes overseas had experienced rorts, and that people would try to obtain two cards for fraud purposes.
The difficulties in connecting birth certificates and other documents to their subjects meant absolutely confirming someone's identity was not possible.
"It was a program that hadn't been thought out in detail," said Ryan, who resigned from the Senate in December 1987.
"It's objectives were fine but it became undoable politically."
Ryan kept battling it out in the Senate, while Hawke considered a joint sitting of both houses of parliament to force the issue, but ultimately the scheme was undone by an outsider.
A retired public servant found a technical loophole in the legislation that no one from either party noticed, and the bill was withdrawn and then unceremoniously dumped.
After all the drama surrounding the card, two bills that passed within three years of its demise achieved many of its intended goals.
In 1988, the Tax File Number system was set up, and two years later laws were enacted to match information between government databases.