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Australian rights advocates criticize use of facial biometrics by police, government


Australian Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow is pushing for more rigorous facial recognition regulation to prevent law enforcement from abusing the biometric technology, writes brisbane times.

In an interview with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Santow complained about the lack of legal transparency and protection against police abuse of facial recognition.

“We want to see this new form of technology developed in a way that is safe and provides economic opportunities, but we need safeguards that prevent harm to humans,” he said.

IBM, Amazon and Microsoft have recently withdrawn from collaboration with U.S. law enforcement units. The decision came following protests in the U.S. accusing the police of racial bias and claims that facial recognition is less accurate for ethnic minorities.

“One-to-many is much more prone to error and the consequences of error can be exceptionally serious. In a law enforcement context, if you wrongly identify someone as a suspect, then you can take all kinds of action against that person that can violate their basic human rights,” Santow said. “[Facial recognition for law enforcement] should not be permissible, unless or until there are proper legal protections in place that will prohibit and prevent misuse and harm against humans.”

Australia’s Identity-matching Services Bill which enabled facial image sharing among government agencies and private institutions was first introduced in 2018, and then withdrawn to be redrafted.

More than half of Australians (61 percent) think facial recognition could be used for public safety, but at the same time are not comfortable with it in public spaces and would like the option to opt out. The survey confirmed Australians are not fully aware how facial data could be leveraged, Monash University researcher Robbie Fordyce told the publication, who believes a moratorium is necessary to prevent data from being stored indefinitely or sold between the public and private sectors.

Tasmanians complain about national facial biometrics database

Over 1,245 Tasmanians led by Tasmanian Director of Civil Liberties, Richard Griggs, have complained about the Tasmanian government’s photo ID initiative which transferred their photos to a national facial recognition database in Canberra, without their consent, Civil Liberties Australia announced.

Griggs accused the government of reporting the wrong number of complaints, after it announced that “around 20” Tasmanians complained. According to Griggs, the number is 60 times higher than what was initially reported.

While some are bothered that they were not asked for consent, others are worried about the lack of transparency around the use of the database which may lead to government surveillance. Some also voiced concerns about potential data breaches exposing their personal information to hackers and about the lack of legislative or parliamentary approval for the transfer.

Member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly for the Greens Cassy O’Connor said in February that the drivers’ license data was provided without knowing how it will be used, and called on the government to delete it.

All Australian states and territories are expected to upload their information by September 2021.

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