Govt pushes to collect more biometric data at Aussie airports

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Govt pushes to collect more biometric data at Aussie airports

Wants to strip parental consent from minors' data collection.

The federal government is attempting to expand the amount and type of biometric data it collects on Australian citizens and foreigners - including minors - at the country's airports through new legislation.

The Coalition Government had initially attempted to include an expansion to biometric data collection in its 'foreign fighters' bill last year.

It was knocked back by the parliamentary committee reviewing the bill, which said the collection of additional types of biometric data should by covered under entirely new legislation given the sensitive nature of the information involved.

The Government therefore earlier this month introduced its Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015, which aims to expand biometric data collection to include fingerprints and iris scans in order to tackle the threat of Australians seeking to travel overseas to fight with terrorist organisations like Islamic State.

The Immigration department currently collects facial images, signatures and fingerprints - the latter only in limited circumstances.

The amendment would ensure that any type of personal identifier - defined as fingerprints or handprints; a person's height and weight; photograph of a person's head and shoulders; audio or video recording of a person; an iris scan; or a signature - can be collected from an individual.

"Recent border and terrorism-related events in Australia and worldwide illustrate the need for measures to strengthen community protection outcomes," the bill's outline reads.

"In addition, as the department reduces the degree of physical contact with applicants for visas, it is increasingly important that identity and other checks are conducted against biometric data holdings to detect individuals of concern."

Mobile fingerprint checks at airports would also be implemented in order to discover foreign fighters with fake passports.

The fingerprint data will not be retained after the scan - it will be used to check against existing data holdings to confirm the identity of the person.

Immigration does not plan to collect fingerprints from all non-citizens entering and leaving Australia, the bill states, rather it aims to have the flexibility to do so when required.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the bill would address gaps in the existing biometric legislative framework and streamline seven existing provisions to a "single broad discretionary power to collect one or more personal identifiers from non-citizens and citizens at the border".

“Recent terrorism related events in Australia and globally serve to remind us that the threat of a domestic terrorist attack remains real,” Dutton said in a statement.

“This bill further strengthens Australia's border protection measures by enhancing the capability of the department to identify persons seeking either to enter or depart Australia, and non-citizens who remain in Australia."

The legislation would apply to Australians and foreigners leaving or entering the country, unauthorised maritime arrivals who have not applied for a visa, foreigners who have applied for temporary or permanent protection visas, and visa holders subject to identity fraud allegations.

Refusal to provide the requested biometric data by a citizen may result in delayed departure or arrival; or visa refusal, refusal to enter Australia, delayed departure or immigration detention for non-citizens.

No parental, guardian consent needed for minors, incapable persons

The bill will also allow law enforcement agencies to collect the biometric data of minors and incapable persons without the need to obtain consent or presence of a parent or guardian during the collection.

Australia "faces the return of potentially radicalised minors", Dutton told parliament earlier this month.

This new capability would "further contribute to the protection of children who have been, or who are at risk of, being trafficked", according to the bill.

The amendment would address a situation where a parent or guardian seeks to "frustrate the collection of personal identifiers by way of an identification test by leaving a room where an identification test is to take place".

"The amendments are not intended to implement a universal policy to collect personal identifiers from minors and incapable persons," the bill states.

"Only a small number of minors will be affected by the amendments in specific circumstances and on a case-by-case basis, including offshore to protect persons from people smugglers and traffickers and to facilitate the genuine travel of minors and incapable persons to Australia."

Public submissions to the proposed legislation are currently being taken and are due before April 9.

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