Australian senators call for stricter biometric data storage guidelines

June 8, 2015 - 

Labor members of Australia’s Senate Standing Committees on Legal and Constitutional Affairs have released a report that details a number of recommendations to be made to a government bill that, if passed, will grant the immigration department the authority to collect biometric data, according to a report by Computer World.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015 intends to combine individual personal identifier collection powers into an overarching discretionary power.

It will also enable the immigration department to collect various kinds of biometric identifiers under the guidance of the Migration Act, expanding the types of biometric identifiers that can be collected, the circumstances in which they are collected, and the regions where they can be collected.

Additionally, it will allow the department to collect biometric identifiers from those individuals who are incapable of giving consent, such as the disabled or children, without previously receiving the consent of a parent, guardian or independent person.

The committee’s report outlines a series of recommendations to introduce protections to lines detailed in sections 258E and 258F of the Migration Act 1958, such as protecting the privacy rights of those individuals undergoing an identification test and preventing any potentially cruel and degrading treatment.

Additionally, the report calls for the biometrics bill’s privacy impact assessment, which the department previously said it will undergo, be released before the Senate voting on the proposed law.

Meanwhile, Labor senators Catryna Bilyk and Sue Lines released a report condemning the bill and arguing that it should not be passed without some serious changes being made to it.

“We argue that the bill lacks genuine independent oversight, and that the retention of and arbitrary collection of biometric information raises concerns from collection, and then subsequent use and retention,” according to the report. “Labor Senators would support a thorough review by the Privacy Commissioner, prior to passage of the bill, as to whether the current obligations to store biometric data securely are sufficient or whether increased security for the dataset is required, and support the recommendation of the majority report that a separate Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) conducted by the department in relation to the specific measures contained in this bill be undertaken and made publically available.”

Additionally, the Law Council of Australia stated that the bill should include a clause that states that any biometric data retained will undergo mandatory encryption.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection responded to the organization’s concerns by directing it to measures stated in the Migration Act relating to overseeing the access and disclosure of identifying data, the department’s adherence to the Australian Privacy Principles and its use of government information security standards.

The department also stated that the Privacy Commissioner is currently looking at the various requirements to securely store biometric data. The commissioner has until June 30 to complete a privacy assessment on the collection, storage, sharing and use of biometric information.

In the report, Labor senators said that they “would welcome amendments to the bill that provide for additional security measures reflecting the sensitivity of the data collected, and would support amendments that address a requirement to notify the individual and the Privacy Commissioner for data breach notification in the event of a breach”.

Additionally, the senators said they have “specific concerns around the lack of safeguards for minors and ‘incapable’ persons in the legislation”, the fact that the biometric data could potentially be retained for a long period of time, and a lack of regulatory powers on the part of the Privacy Commissioner.

Previously reported, the Biometrics Institute issued a warning to the Australian government that they must take extra precaution when using children’s biometrics for border protection and other purposes.

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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.