Govt funds $18.5m Aussie facial recognition database

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Govt funds $18.5m Aussie facial recognition database

Law enforcement agencies to share images.

The federal government will allocate $18.5 million to the creation of a national facial recognition sharing tool for law enforcement agencies.

The introduction of such a capability was first signalled in a response plan (pdf) pulled together by state and federal police ministers and attorneys-general to tackle cross-border criminal activities.

The federal Attorney-General's Department last month revealed it expected to have the system up and running by the middle of next year.

It will allow law enforcement agencies to share citizens' facial images to identify unknown individuals and verify identities.

The 'national facial biometric matching capability' 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, the AGD said last month.

It will be targeted towards identity theft, fraudulent identity documents and "other serious criminal activity", AGD said.

When it goes live the capability will be available only to Commonwealth agencies, and will extend to others in the states and territories over time, the department said today.

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

The capability will not retain or store any of the shared images, the department said.

"The technical architecture of the capability will adopt a hub-and-spoke model to facilitate 'query and response' matching requests between participating agencies," the AGD said in questions on notice last month.

There is currently more than 100 million facial images being held by agencies that issue identity documents, according to the AGD.

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

The national facial recognition system is intended to share still images, and won't include moving images from licence plate cameras or CCTV. But stills from those technologies could be used, the AGD said last month.

The department has been contacted for further detail.

The introduction of the capability follows the passage of a bill to collect more biometric data on travellers at the country's airports, in order to to tackle the threat of Australians seeking to travel overseas to fight with terrorist organisations.

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