Australia’s planned use of facial recognition raises privacy issues

September 17, 2015 - 

The Australian government’s plans to further its use of facial recognition as part of its counter-terrorism efforts is raising concerns over privacy and how the technology will be used in everyday policing, according to a report by The Conversation.

Last week, Michael Keenan, the minister for justice and the minister assisting the prime minister on counter-terrorism, announced details regarding the A$18.5 million (USD$13.3 million) National Facial Biometric Matching Capability.

The capability will grant Commonwealth agencies and state law enforcement the power to use facial recognition technologies to match an image of an unknown individual with those images stored on government-operated databases, such as passports and driving licences.

The facial recognition technologies will be used to identify terror suspects, murderers, armed robbers, and other dangerous criminals.

In late August, the government Australian Senate made amendments to the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015, which expands on the discretionary power of several Australian agencies to collect the biometric data of both Australian citizens and non-citizens at the border and within Australia.

The amendments are expected to add even more records to the more than 100 million facial images currently stored on government-operated databases..

And while the government said the biometric capability has “strong privacy safeguards”, it fails to further address these concerns beyond the fact that the facial images will not be stored in a centralized database.

Instead, the images will be shared in an integrated network of participating agencies in which each agency will be able to access any image however it remains to be seen how effective this system will be and whether there are any impending risks regarding privacy and human rights.

The other issue is that it is still unclear whether the technology is leading to more arrests for police and if it is accurate enough.

The FBI’s Next Generation Identification program is said to have a 20% error rate, but Australian authorities have been unclear as to what they consider an acceptable error rate to be when using facial recognition technology.

Previously reported, Australian government announced it would roll out a new biometric system next year that will allow law enforcement agencies to share facial images amongst themselves.

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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.