November 28, 2017 -
Australia’s Attorney General’s Department is considering selling access to its national facial recognition database to private companies, The Guardian reports based on documents released under Freedom of Information laws.
Major telecommunications companies are in discussions with the government to launch pilot projects in 2018 for private sector use of the Facial Verification Service, and financial institutions are also interested, according to partially redacted documents.
The new system would be similar to an existing program which allows companies to pay the Australian government a fee to use its Document Verification Service, which processed 15.5 million transactions in 2016, mostly for telecoms. Companies would collect an image of the customer and send it to the Biometric Interoperability Hub, which would send back a positive or negative response.
The Attorney General’s Office says private companies would be required to obtain consent from individuals to use the service, but the plan has drawn fire from privacy advocates, who say requiring consent may not adequately protect consumer’s rights.
“When individuals enter into an agreement with a government agency that includes their personal information, they should have the right to understand, be informed and have a say in where that information is held and what is being used for,” said Tim Singleton Norton, the chair of Digital Rights Watch.
“That includes knowing who is able to make use of their data. The government should be transparent with the public about their negotiations with private companies to allow the use of the facial recognition database, and how those companies will be held accountable for securing the biometric data they create as part of this program.”
Australia’s federal government reached a deal with state and territory governments in October to provide images for its facial verification program. E4 Australia then called for the program to be opened up to the private sector.