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Australia’s national security committee puts a halt to customs’ biometric collection plans


Australia’s Immigration Department wants to collect and store photographs of millions of Australian citizens under the government’s counterterrorism laws, which could later expand to fingerprinting and iris scanning, according to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Under the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (“Foreign Fighters”) Bill 2014, Australia’s Immigration Department is able to enforce facial recognition imaging of all civilians passing through international airports in its effort to crack down on passport fraud.

The foreign fighters bill is expected to be put to a vote by the end of October, but it appears as though the plan could be thwarted after the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security examined the new legislation Friday, according to a report by Gizmodo.

The practice could eventually apply to a broad range of biometric data — including fingerprinting and iris scanning – all of which could potentially be shared with other government agencies.

The proposed biometric data collection has been met with a considerable backlash.

Many critics have pointed out that there is a significant risk of the data being hacked since many mobile devices are now secured by fingerprint and iris recognition.

Under the current legislation, the department can legally photograph all Australians and international visitors when they depart or arrive at one of the country’s airports and walk through the automated passport gates.

It can then share this biometric data for “specified purposes” under the bill’s explanatory memoranda, although it does not state the nature of these purposes.

Upon examining the bill, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security submitted 37 recommendations for the government to amend parts of the bill.

The 37 recommendations are intended to “water down” the bill, including one significant recommendation that calls on the process of collecting photographic and biometric information on Australians and foreigners moving in and out of the country to be tightly monitored by the Privacy Commissioner.

In particular, recommendations 34-36 would make it mandatory for Australia’s Customs and Border Protection to first submit their data collection plans to the Australian Privacy Commissioner for approval.

More importantly, the recommendations call for a halt to the plans for the additional collection of biometric information under the Foreign Fighters Bill.

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