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One-to-many face matching may be one risk too many for Australians considering digital ID

One-to-many face matching may be one risk too many for Australians considering digital ID

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is warning that laws allowing authorities to use one-to-many face biometric matching techniques, even in extremely limited circumstances, could put a chill on digital ID adoption in Australia.

An article on InnvationAus.com quotes the DTA as saying that the allowance is a “significant change and will have a detrimental impact on the uptake of matching services by the community if it is perceived as lowering confidence”.

“Any negative impacts relating to the 1:many matching is likely to result in less enrolments in Digital ID and uptake of digital services. A slowing of the uptake of Digital ID would negatively impact on the work done by government to date, to streamline and improve inclusive access to digital services.”

The government is currently conducting an open consultation process as it develops legislation for an economy-wide digital ID program. The long-awaited draft legislation aims to codify privacy safeguards and governance structures that have been on the table since 2015, when work began on the Australian Government Digital Identity System (AGDIS).

In 2019, a bipartisan committee threw out a proposed draft bill that gave law enforcement access to the one-to-many Face Identification Service (FIS). The fresh draft allows its use in only one case: to protect the identity of a person with a legally assumed identity.

And yet, says the DTA, there is enough unease about the use of facial recognition by police that any wiggle room on one-to-many biometric matching could derail the government’s efforts to bring digital ID into the mainstream. If public concern is not addressed, “a disjointed and agency based approach to digital services will remain and services will continue to be fragmented”.

To avoid this, the DTA recommends a phased approach, in which one-to-one face matching becomes established before one-to-many systems are introduced. Additionally, the advocacy group Digital Rights Watch wants any use of FIS to be permitted only by court order.

Australia’s digital ID program has been plagued with a host of issues and delays. The government says it has plans to introduce a draft bill to move the project ahead by the end of 2023.

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