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Committee sends Australian government biometric plans back to be redrafted


Australia’s plans to leverage biometrics to authenticate users of government services has hit another setback, as the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has declined to recommend a pair of biometric bills be passed, and instead has requested the government to redraft the Identity-matching Services Bill 2019 to include adequate privacy safeguards, ZDNet reports.

The Bill is intended to establish a legal basis for the exchange of personal data between the Commonwealth government and state and territory governments. An earlier version of the bill was introduced in early 2018, proposing the country set up a pair of national facial recognition services, one for consumers to use for services access, and one for law enforcement and government agencies to perform investigations.

Committee Chair Andrew Hasty told the House of Representatives that the committee had heard concerns throughout its review about the need to ensure appropriate governance of the system, accountability for its users, and the protection of individual privacy rights.

“The committee acknowledges these concerns and believes that while the Bill’s explanatory memorandum sets out governance arrangements, such as existing and contemplated agreements and access policies, they are not adequately set out in the current Bill,” Hastie says.

The committee expressed broad support for the Bill’s objectives, but also bipartisan agreement that the protections it includes are inadequate. The Bill should be redrafted with the increased focus on privacy, transparency, and robust safeguards, the new regime should be subject to parliamentary oversight, with proportionate and transparent functionality, it should be required to produce annual reports, and the obligations of all parties should be specifically set out in the primary legislation, according to ZDNet.

The committee also wants to see the redrafted Bill before sending it to parliament.

The Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2019 was also examined by the committee, which found that mechanisms for human reviews of automated decision-making should be incorporated into the legislation, particularly in the case of decisions unfavorable to the subject.

The 2018 version of the Identity-matching Services Bill ran into controversy, and had not been passed when parliament was dissolved for a new election. The new version was introduced in July, and will presumably now be pushed at least into 2020.

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