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Australian government official tells parliamentary inquiry changes future-proof biometric legislation


Australia’s proposed national facial recognition service is “not intended for mass surveillance,” a government official has told a parliamentary inquiry as the Department of Home Affairs attempts to ease concerns about differences between the two bills establishing the service and the intergovernmental agreement which preceded them, Computerworld reports.

The inquiry is examining the Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2018 after advocacy groups and two territory governments objected to the change in scope from the Intergovernmental Agreement on Identity Matching Services (IGA).

Acting First Assistant Secretary for the Identity and Biometrics Division at the Department of Home Affairs Andrew Rice said that the system’s operation makes it impossible to apply real-time facial recognition to a live feed of people in a public space. He also said that changes, including not explicitly barring private sector use of the Face Matching Service and Identity Data Sharing Service in the legislation, as was done in the IGA, were made to allow for further changes in the future.

“We said to them [the Victorian government] that we drafted the bill on the question of private-sector access to allow for future use,” Rice said. “However we have recognise, as the IGA does, that there’s a separate policy process that state ministers would go through in order to agree to private-sector access.

“So we were future proofing the bill but knowing that we needed to get the agreement of state ministers and that’s what happened with the various stages of the Document Verification Service as well. So we were allowing for a future event.”

The same rational also applies to the decision to include language allowing for other biometric modalities and identity information to be included in the system, at the discretion of the Minister of Home Affairs, according to Rice.

“Do we have any plans? No we don’t… this whole system has been conceived on the basis of using what’s already there,” Rice explained. “We don’t have iris holdings that are searchable and I think some of those other modalities … are nascent modalities … in a biometric sense.”

Preparation for the launch of the system continues, meanwhile, as do plans for biometric deployments from other levels of Australian government.

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