Aussie facial recognition system would give police 'unprecedented' power

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Aussie facial recognition system would give police 'unprecedented' power

ACT government worried about new capability.

The ACT government has raised concerns that a national facial recognition database would give police 'unprecedented and extraordinary' access to the personal information of citizens without proper safeguards.

In September the government promised to put $18.5 million towards the creation of a national facial biometric matching capability for law enforcement agencies.

It is aimed at tackling cross-border criminal activities and will allow law enforcement to share citizens' facial images to identify unknown individuals and verify identities.

The Attorney-General's Department expects to have the system up and running by the middle of next year.

But at a meeting of state, federal and New Zealand attorneys-general yesterday, the ACT said it did not support the facial recognition sharing tool as it raised "significant privacy and human rights concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed".

ACT AG Simon Corbell was the single voice of dissent against the plan among his counterparts.

He argued that parts of the proposal would give law enforcement an "unprecedented and extraordinary level of access to biometric and biographical information".

Corbell said there were currently no restrictions on the federal government changing the laws so the data can be accessed by commercial entities, or so police can use the information to identify perpetrators of petty crime.

“Of particular concern is the prospect that this data could be accessed by the private sector in the future, and potentially for a broad range of matters beyond the most serious of criminal matters. As it stands, such changes could be made without reference to any parliamentary oversight,” he said.

“In this context, it is the ACT’s view that wholesale population level comparison of facial images goes well beyond what is reasonable and proportionate in a free and democratic society.” 

The facial biometric system will match a facial photograph to images on passports, visas and driver’s licences, and will initially offer functionality to match the identities of known individuals. It will later be able to match unknown individuals.

It will be targeted towards identity theft, fraudulent identity documents and "other serious criminal activity", according to the federal Attorney-General's Department.

The capability will initially be available only to Commonwealth agencies, and will later extend to others in the states and territories.

It will be subject to independent privacy impact assessments and agencies will need to have legislative authority to collect and use facial images to take part in the scheme.

There are currently more than 100 million facial images being held by agencies that issue identity documents.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Immigration, the AFP, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Defence, and the Attorney-General's Department will initially be able to access the platform.

While the system is intended to share still and not moving images, stills from licence plate cameras and CCTV could also be be used, the AGD has said.

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