Australian government biometrics bill met with opposition in parliament

June 26, 2015 - 

A new bill introduced by the Coalition aiming to make it mandatory for citizen to provide their biometric data at international ports has experienced some opposition in parliament, according to a report by CSO.

The news follows the Australian government’s announcement in March that it plans to introduce new legislation aimed to bulk up Australia’s biometrics system by allowing authorities to collect biometric data from children and also enable airport border control to perform mobile fingerprint checks on those suspected of being foreign fighters with fake passports.

If the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015 is passed, the legislation would expand the types of biometric identifiers that customs authorities can collect, as well as the situations and locations in which they can perform biometric collection.

Both the Labor and Greens parties have expressed their concerns regarding the bill in the Senate and are working on having the bill revised.

The Greens party has called on the Senate to postpone any further consideration of the bill until the government releases the results of the department of immigration’s privacy impact assessment for the new laws.

In its memorandum for the bill, the Coalition wrote that it was seeking to consolidate all current biometric collection powers into a “broad, discretionary powers to collect one or more personal identifiers from non-citizens, and citizens at the border”.

If the bill is passed, customs authorities would be granted the power to collect biometric identifiers from children without attaining consent from their parents and allow the immigration minister the authority to collect new types of biometric identifiers, including iris scans, without passing any new legislation.

“Regrettably, in the absence of (privacy assessment) that is being withheld from this parliament, we have to conclude that what we see here tonight is another one of those grabs for power,” Greens Senator Scott Ludlam told parliament. “The key concerns relate to the security of the data that is collected, and that goes to ensuring that it will not be hacked, leaked and distributed.

“Given the extraordinary intimacy of this detail that is being collected on people—not just suspects, but everybody transiting our borders—and if this material were to fall into the wrong hands, it could lead to one very obvious scenario: identity theft. If you have this information on an individual, you can assume their identity in almost trivial ways and wreck people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, Labor Senator Carol Brown said that opposition is “concerned that there is no requirement for individuals to be notified if there is a serious privacy breach in relation to their identifying information”, citing an incident from February 2014 when the immigration department accidentally published the private information of 10,000 asylum seekers on its website.

The Senate has not yet voted on the Greens’ proposed amendment.

A telecommunications law associate professor in Australia has recently called for new laws banning the use of face recognition technology to visual images online in an effort to identify people without prior consent.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.