Inquiry says canceled Australian biometric contract premature but supports police facial recognition

The business case for Australia’s canceled Biometric Identification Services (BIS) project was only partially developed or poorly articulated, and never appropriately addressed as the project progressed, according to an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (PJCLE), reported by Computerworld.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) canceled its contract with NEC Australia a year ago, at a cost of AUD $26 million (US$18 million), plus an additional $3 million ($2.1 million) per year for the renegotiated National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) contract.

The report from PJCLE was completed in April and recently tabled in parliament. It largely echoes the findings of the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), which noted an uninspired industry response to the tender but put the blame primarily on the project’s management. The PJCLE called the BIS project “premature” and “poorly scoped,” and said that its management was deeply flawed.

ACIC CEO Michael Phelan told the PJCLE inquiry in November that NAFIS was being kept operational by the agency with a $9 million ($6.2 million) annual budget, and that the negotiations were ongoing to possibly enhance the system for continued use. IDEMIA won a contract to support the fingerprint database for five years in February. Computerworld reports the NAFIS contract is set to expire in 2020.

The PJCLE report acknowledged the benefit of facial recognition and other advanced technologies for law enforcement, and expressed support for their adoption “for clearly articulated purposes and following rigorous assessment of law enforcement needs.”

While the ACIC will continue working toward a new system to adopt facial recognition, only DNA, fingerprints, and eyewitness testimony are considered sufficient for identifying individuals in Australian courts.

“Facial recognition is not at that stage, so it’s important that we actually have a doctrine about how you’re going to use facial recognition — whether it’s going to be used for forensic purposes, whether it’s going to be used by police officers at the coalface, whether it’s going to be used by detectives, whether it’s going to be used in the intelligence area,” Phelan said.

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