Plans to pass legislation permitting the use of national face-identity matching services has come under criticism by some of Australia’s largest privacy groups.
Civil liberty advocates, including Digital Rights Watch and others, have spoken out against plans to monitor all Australian citizens via advanced biometric CCTV capabilities.
The Australian government is facing tough opposition in their plans to pass laws allowing the use of national facial recognition capabilities via CCTV cameras.
The opposition has developed during a submission period relating to new legislation currently before parliament that seeks to permit authorities the ability to monitor mass biometric data.
Tim Singleton Norton, Digital Rights Watch Chair, released a statement expressing his concerns:
“There is a severe lack of strong oversight mechanisms and general enforcement for human rights and civil liberties in this country, which results in the public being understandably wary about giving government more powers in the first place.”
Currently, on a per capita basis, the Australian government is 20 times more likely to intercept telephone calls than the United States government (source). This includes police accessing phone and internet data an astonishing 1,200 times per week.
“The public needs to be able to trust that governments can adequately house and protect this information. We have seen breaches from agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection or the Australian Bureau of Statistics, to name just a few.
“There is no empirical evidence that supports the assertion that blanket surveillance or mass data retention is effective at preventing serious crime and terrorism either domestically or internationally — in fact if anything, these approaches almost always erode rights, risk security and diminish freedoms”.
The comments echo sentiments by many researchers and academics in Australia who have pointed out the fundamental flaws associated with the notion of increasing surveillance to generate security.
“The entire focus on surveillance operations in this country is fundamentally broken, and we need a complete paradigm shift towards a rights-based approach.”
The concerns follow previous statements when the national concept was introduced in 2017.
Australia’s leading privacy and civil liberties organisations condemned the decision, calling the facial recognition database ‘unnecessary’ and ‘fundamentally incompatible with a free and open society’.
LAWS UNDER REVIEW
The Department of Home Affairs recently commenced a review of new proposed national security legislation, specifically relating to an agreement between state and territory governments to develop a facial recognition database.
The review comes as the federal government has reaffirmed its commitment to pursue the controversial face-matching and biometrics scheme after the 2019 Federal Election.
Three new controversial pieces of legislation have been introduced to parliament that guide arrangements for the ‘protection and management’ of identity information on a national scale.
The Identity-matching Services Bill 2019 is intended to “facilitate the secure, automated and accountable exchange of identity information between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, pursuant to the objectives of the Intergovernmental Agreement”.
The Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2019 amends the Australian Passports Act to provide a legal basis for ensuring that “the Minister is able to make travel document data available for all the purposes of, and by the automated means intrinsic to, the identity-matching services to which the Commonwealth and the States and Territories agreed in the IGA”.
The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Bill 2019 contains a range of amendments intended to strengthen Australia’s counter-terrorism legislative framework.
All three pieces of legislation will fundamentally shape the underlying guidelines that will dictate the development and management of the new national facial recognition system.
The review is meant to shape a new iteration of the initial plans agreed by governments in 2017.
Many have branded the dramatic expansion of the government’s facial recognition capability as a “massive privacy overreach”, with concerns over security risks surrounding the large database and the implications on the privacy of innocent Australians.
DETAILS OF THE DATABASE
In October 2017, the Australian government announced a national push for a tough overhaul of current ‘anti-terrorism’ laws at a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra.
In the meeting, state leaders and ministers unanimously approved a counter-terrorism package that “enhances public safety” by increasing surveillance of Australian citizens – including utalising new national facial recognition capabilities to monitor potential ‘terrorists’.
The announcement saw all states and territories agree to hand over driver’s licenses and passport photos for a national identification database, allowing for real-time facial recognition when matched to state CCTV footage, thus bypassing current restrictions on obtaining such information.
Government officials would establish new National Facial Biometric Matching Capability systems, and signed the Intergovernmental Agreement on Identity Matching Services to outline the changes.
The documents reveal the new system “will make it easier for security and law enforcement agencies to identify people who are suspects or victims of terrorist or other criminal activity, and prevent the use of fake or stolen identities — which is a key enabler of terrorism and other serious crime”.
Commenting on the new agreement, the Premier of Tasmania showed no reserve in support of the overhaul, declaring “we live in very uncertain times” and “this is the new world order”.
This step is one of the most important aspects of the biometric surveillance state in Australia.
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.
Major privacy concerns around national facial recognition database | Digital Rights Watch
Facial recognition legislation under review | TOTT News
Bills Digest No. 44 2003-04 | APH.gov.au
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