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Rights group calls on Australia to prohibit biometric mass surveillance


Human rights advocacy group Access Now has panned Australia’s lack of attention to human rights while implementing its digitization agenda, and called on its government to prohibit the use of facial recognition and other biometrics for crowd tracking and monitoring.

Access Now says Australia “is willing to undermine human rights as it adapts to the challenges of the digital era,” and is abandoning its legacy of support for human rights. The report “Human Rights in the Digital Era: An International Perspective on Australia” (PDF) makes a number of recommendations beyond the biometrics prohibition, including a complete reversal of the federal government’s position on encryption, with pending legislation arguably requiring backdoor access to encrypted systems.

The group also urged Australia’s government to make sure any biometric data it collects and stores is secured, decentralized, and covered by data protection safeguards, such as rules for notice and correction.

“The Identity-Matching Services Bill 2018 and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-Matching Services) Bill 2018 will allow scans to be run through existing biometric databases in real time, greatly increasing not only potential for abuse of the system, but incentives for massive collection of biometric data,” the report authors write. “Facial recognition programs are so invasive, and have such a high propensity for error and bias, that some academics have called for them to be banned outright.”

Access Now claims that Australia has increased surveillance laws and practices more than any other country in the world since 9/11, and cites a Reporters Without Borders list which includes Australia among countries with the most surveillance, along with Egypt, Kazakhstan, India, Russia, and Turkey.

Australia’s facial recognition plans have also drawn criticism from the Law Council of Australia and two territory governments.

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