Australia’s Department of Home Affairs says facial recognition system proposal already addresses concerns

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs has rejected suggestions that warrants should be required for access to the country’s facial recognition database in a submission (PDF) to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

The “Identity-matching Services Bill 2018” was introduced in parliament in February. It would create a Face Identification Service (FIS) and expand access to the Face Verification Service (FVS) to some private companies.

Obtaining a warrant is a resource intensive process, Home Affairs says, and government service access arrangements already have strict controls in place. Law enforcement agencies do not usually need a warrant to access information needed to identify an individual, Home Affairs argues, and the speed of identification is one of the proposed system’s main benefits.

“While it is not yet clear how often government agencies will use the services, it is likely that a requirement to obtain a warrant would effectively prevent government agencies from using the services, or obtaining the benefits of the services, in many cases,” according to the submission.

“The privacy benefits of requiring agencies to obtain a warrant would likely be significantly outweighed by the decreased ability of agencies to carry out their law enforcement and national security functions.”

The submission also answers the concerns expressed recently by Information Commissioners in Queensland and Victoria, saying that the privacy and security mechanisms in the system appropriately limit the access of private sector entities.

“The Bill has been designed to avoid a blanket authorisation for the use of the services by participating agencies, ensuring that information-sharing between two other agencies through the services will continue to be subject to existing privacy and other legislation,” Home Affairs writes in the submission’s concluding remarks.

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