Australian government reintroduces bill for facial biometric services as tech’s uses expand

Australia’s government has brought the identity matching services bill back to parliament for a second attempt to set up biometric facial recognition services for government agencies, financial institutions, and telecom companies, The Canberra Times reports.

The legislation was agreed to by the states and territories and the federal government under then-Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull late in 2017, and would see Department of Homeland Services administer a database of passport, visa, and driver’s license images, and act as a central router for external matching services. The “Identity-matching services Bill 2018” proved somewhat controversial, however, and ultimately did not receive parliamentary approval before recent elections.

“The face matching services enabled by the bill will assist Australians to access services online more easily and securely,” government minister David Coleman said, as he reintroduce the bill to the lower house.

The Bill would criminalize abuses of the system by Home Office employees, and include a statutory review in five years.

Facial recognition to secure solar rebates

Solar Victoria, a website for residents of the Australian state to claim rebates for solar panels, is trialing a smartphone-based facial recognition check as part of a new process to replace a paper-based 100-point check, The Age reports.

The system is reported to have a failure rate around 40 percent through the first two weeks, however, prompting an editorial in The Age to question whether it is more or less easy and secure, and whether it is necessary in the first place. The documentation does not make explicitly clear that facial recognition will be used, or how data will be protected, and there is not consent process.

Victoria’s government is attempting to have the system accredited with the Trusted Digital Identity Framework run by the federal government, according to The Age.

“’Open government’ should mean opening up the government to the citizen by improving government transparency, not opening up the citizen to the government by increasing citizen surveillance and control,” writes Accountability Round Table member Dr. Julia Thornton. “But governments are closing our accessibility to their activities just as fast as they are opening up their access to ours.”

Banks work with government

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is working with the federal government to set up a system for the bank to use government facial biometric systems for customer verification and KYC checks, iTnews.com.au reports.

CBA Chief Digital Officer Pete Steel suggested the bank, Australia’s largest, does not want to hold a biometric database.

“When it comes to biometrics we are extremely unlikely to store anything significant on biometrics… we’ll be having moments in time when we check biometrics but we don’t want to be in the business of storing customer fingerprints and facial recognition,” Steel says.

The bank says the system, described at the launch of the new CBA mobile banking app, will reduce friction for customers, and using government identity credentials could also help banks save on compliance and fraud costs and approve legitimate transactions more quickly, according to the report.

One system being experimented with entails users reading ePassport data with their phones, and then using facial recognition to biometrically match their passport image. The checks would be used for customer onboarding and routine customer checks.

Steel emphasized that digital identity needs to be more effectively managed, and that CBA is working with other stakeholders within and outside of the financial industry on developing a system to do so. He also said a federated model, such as the services offered by Human Service and now Australia Post, is preferable to a single solution. CBA has also recently launched opt-in location tracking to help differentiate legitimate transactions from fraudulent ones.

The new service is expected to be launched next year.

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