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Australian parliament approves ID verification, face biometrics bill with major amendments

Australian parliament approves ID verification, face biometrics bill with major amendments

A draft legislation that offers vital safeguards for face biometrics and digital ID verification services in Australia has received parliament’s approval after significant adjustments were made to it.

Dubbed Identity Verification Services Bill 2023, the legal text also provides the framework for oversight and transparency in digital ID verification processes.

According to a media release from the Attorney General’s Department, the move by parliament represents an important step in government’s efforts to secure the country’s digital ID verification ecosystem as Australians seek to conveniently and securely engage with the digital economy without exposing themselves to identity fraud and theft. It enables businesses to use the government’s Face Verification Service to perform biometric ID verification.

Adoption of the legislation in parliament now provides a framework in which Australians will be able to enjoy ID verification services with protection against data security and privacy breaches, or at least with some guarantees for accountability in the event that such breaches happen.

The level of digital engagement among Australians is high as users seek ID verification services through platforms like MyGovID, the Australian Tax Office, Centrelink, banks and telecommunications providers.  ID verification service providers help verify government-issued ID documents against the government database.

Per the release, some of the issues addressed by the legislation are transparency which requires that “express consent” be obtained before verifying a user’s identity; personal information safeguard by ensuring that all information collected from individuals is used only for reasons allowed in the bill; privacy law compliance and personal information protection obligations; and heavy penalties for non-compliance which could lead to suspension or termination of access to services.

Others include provision for a strong database security system which includes encryption and the need to report all security violations, as well as a strong oversight mechanism over the operation of the services and the legislation.

Meanwhile, ACS reports that the bill was okayed by the Senate following significant changes to the document.

The outlet notes that the text scaled through with 38 amendments, mostly having to do with privacy-enhancing questions earlier proposed by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. They include a clause that facial images collected for biometric matching be destroyed “as soon as reasonably practicable after the image is no longer required for the purposes of the request,” unless their retention is otherwise legally required.

The Identity Verification Services Bill 2023 has faced serious criticism by the opposition on grounds that it had no sufficient data and privacy protection guarantees. Some of those criticisms were repeated by opposition politicians, who claimed that the government’s allocation of only 30 minutes for debate prior to the vote showed it was stifling objections to the volume of data collected, reports InnovationAus.

But ACS quotes Shadow Attorney-General Michaelia Cash as stating that the opposition Liberal Party is now in a position to support the bill in its new form after the concessions made by government.

This development comes as the Business Council of Australia has called for the adoption of a national digital ID in the wake of rising ID verification fraud in the country. Australia also introduced a Digital ID Bill to the Senate on November 30.

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