Federal face database questioned
Legal experts say Australia’s new facial recognition scheme is open to misuse.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton wants the Federal Government to store the biometric data of Australians in a central hub from which it can be shared with other government agencies when needed.
The Government says better data-sharing across governments will strengthen counter-terrorism and policing operations.
The draft laws for the plan say the information — which can be used to identify people in large crowds — could be used for road safety and general law enforcement purposes as well.
Law Council president Morry Bailes says the powerful scheme could be abused.
“Clearly the provision of such capability has been determined by Government as desirable to facilitate the detection of would-be terrorists, by scoping a site for potential terrorist attacks,” Mr Bailes said.
“But that very same identity-matching capability might also be used for a range of activities that Australian citizens regard as unacceptable.
“Examples include accessing CCTV footage to detect, investigate or prosecute young people who may allegedly be engaged in certain low-level unlawful conduct.”
He said the Federal Government had not done enough to explain the scheme could and how it would be used.
“Identity-matching services are legitimised through citizen trust of what governments are doing and that trust is hard gained and in today's world, easily eroded and hard to regain,” Mr Bailes said.
Home Affairs deputy secretary Maria Fernandez said the scheme has been misunderstood, and that only a small number of agencies would have access to the pooled data.
“The bill does not authorise the department to use new data sets of images from individuals that are not already lawfully collected and held by Government,” she said.
She said private companies would only be able to access data for verification purposes with that person's consent.
It is expected that some companies will want to use the system to prevent identity fraud or check that people who work with sensitive information are who they say they are.
“The department will be able to suspend or terminate access to the service for agencies that fail to comply with privacy or security requirements,” Ms Fernandez said.
“These agencies will also be subject to sanctions under existing legislation.”
Home Affairs has also been criticised for including enough oversight provisions in the draft legislation.