Australia’s leading privacy and civil liberties organisations have condemned the decision by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to provide all images from state and territory driver’s licence databases to a national facial biometric capability system.
These organisations, including the Australian Privacy Foundation, Digital Rights Watch, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, South Australian Council for Civil Liberties and Electronic Frontiers Australia, have called the comprehensive facial recognition database ‘unnecessary’ and ‘fundamentally incompatible with a free and open society’.
They have also called for further transparency and details of the new proposals, arguing that national identification systems are the foundation for ‘suspicionless, warrantless mass surveillance’ and are a ‘disproportionate invasion of the privacy rights of all Australians’.
This week, following a mass-shooting in Las Vegas, it was confirmed that the Australian government would use the event to further push for an even tougher overhaul of current ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation at a special Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on Thursday.
In the meeting, state leaders and ministers unanimously approved a counter-terrorism package that “enhances” public safety by increasing surveillance of private citizens – including utalising a new national facial recognition capabilities system to combat ‘terrorism’ – and removes longstanding rights for those suspected of terrorist involvement.
The overhaul will see all states and territories handing over driver’s licenses and passport photos for a national identification database, allowing for real-time facial recognition when matched to state CCTV footage, bypassing current state restrictions and laws on obtaining such information.
Other changes will also entail an expansion of existing ‘preemptive detention orders’, allowing for children as young as ten-years-old to be up to 14 days detention without charge, and to make it a criminal offence to ‘launch a terror attack hoax’ or ‘to possess material on how to undertake a terror attack’.
Mr Turnbull has dismissed suggestions the database could lead to a mass surveillance of citizens, stating the licence photos will only ‘complement’ an existing database of passport photos. Despite this, privacy groups have now united to rebut claims by the Prime Minister, suggesting a mass invasion of privacy never seen before on Australian shores.
Below you will find official statements from representatives of Australia’s leading privacy and civil liberties groups:
David Vaile, Chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation:
“This government has proven it is blind and deaf to privacy and personal information security threats. Make no mistake – this database will affect all Australians, even the most conscientious and law-abiding. It will likely generate massive ‘false positive’ lists that will flood our very effective police and security services with useless distractions.
We’ve already seen calls for ‘scope creep’ to cover welfare enforcement, and there’s every reason to expect this capability will come to be used to identify people with unpaid fines and other minor issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”
Tim Singleton Norton, Chair of Digital Rights Watch:
“This is a gross overreach into the privacy of everyday Australian citizens, and will have huge impacts on the trust in government to manage this database. What is urgently needed is proper consultation, evidence and debate – in parliament, with civil society and the public themselves.
Whilst we of course must ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the tools necessary to undertake their important work, this should not come at the expense of citizen’s rights to privacy.”
Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties:
“The community does not yet understand the real implications of facial recognition technology and how fundamentally the way people can access public spaces like airports, sporting facilities and shopping centres will change. When they understand the realities of this technology, people will be very concerned.”
Jon Lawrence, Executive Officer of Electronic Frontiers Australia:
“This decision is nothing less than a complete betrayal of a fundamental civil liberty of all Australians. If implemented, it will ensure that the presumption of innocence no longer has any effective meaning in this country. Such an untargeted, mass surveillance database is just the latest attempt by governments to categorise everyone as potential suspects, not citizens.”
Angus Murray, Vice-President of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties:
“The protection of the Australian community is fundamentally important – however, this also includes the protection of Australians’ civil liberties and privacy. Today’s agreement, and this continued scope creep, clearly highlights the need for the introduction of a tort of serious invasions of privacy and enforceable Human Rights legislation.
It is incumbent on the Parliament to ensure that today’s COAG agreement on the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability is demonstrably necessary, adequate and proportionate, and subject to proper public scrutiny.”
These organisations have also called on all Australians concerned about this initiative to contact both their state/territory and federal parliamentarians to help them understand that this overhaul is an example of government overreach that is simply unacceptable.
Credit: Digital Rights Watch and Electronic Frontiers Australia.
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Let’s face it, we’ll be no safer with a national recognition database: efa.org.au
Turnbull dismisses privacy concerns in asking for a national identification database: huffingtonpost.com.au
Premier Hodgman on ‘anti-terrorism’ changes: “This is the New World Order”: tottnews.com
Queensland announces trials to replace public transport cards with facial recognition: tottnews.com
Facial recognition to replace passports in radical security overhaul at Australian airports: tottnews.com
Commonwealth Games – QLD Privacy Commissioner slams facial recognition plans as ‘unprecedented’: tottnews.com
Australian schools are now implementing biometric identification technology: tottnews.com
The Fall of Australia – An overview of new ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation: tottnews.com
Erosion of Privacy in Australia – Basic facts you need to know: tottnews.com