The Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is reviewing a bill that will allow the government to develop a facial recognition database.
This is the government’s second attempt to implement a national facial recognition system after the previous bill lapsed with the parliament’s dissolution earlier this year.
Currently, there is no provision for the federal government to access identity information like photographs that are issued for state drivers licences.
The Identity Matching Services Bill 2019 would allow for the sharing of state-based drivers licence data with the federal government.
It also provides the Department of Home Affairs with the capacity to develop a National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution (NDLFRS), consisting of a database of facial images and a “system for biometric comparison of facial images against facial images in the database”.
Angus Murray is Chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia’s Policy and Research Committee.
He told Information Age he was concerned that the provisions offered in the Identity Matching Services Bill allow for disproportionate mass surveillance of Australian citizens.
“Surveillance culture is an extremely dangerous step to be taking,” Murray said.
“Australians should be treated as citizens, not suspects.
“There is a very large no of issues that arise from biometric facial recognition and this puts us further on a slippery slide to a very dystopic Australian culture.”
Murray said that the Identity Matching Services belonged to a legislative agenda—including the Assistance and Access Act and the Mandatory Metadata Retention Scheme—that deserved careful consideration.
“I would hate to see a situation where Australia blindly ran down the same path as some of our overseas counterparts for want of using technology that exists because we can, rather than using technology because we should,” he said.
“It’s something that Australians should be very cautious not to rush down that path without carefully considering what ramifications flow from mass surveillance of Australian citizens.”
The Chinese government has been using surveillance technology like live facial recognition to monitor and control its population.
According to Comparitech, eight of the top ten most-surveilled cities are in China—with many cities hosting millions of street-mounted CCTV cameras.
Sydney ranks as the sixth most-surveilled city outside China with an average of 12 cameras per 1,000 people.
Despite the concerns of Murray and Electronic Frontiers Australia, a spokesperson for Department of Home Affairs assured Information Age that the facial recognition database they will design, should the legislation pass, won’t be used nefariously.
“The Face Matching Services cannot be used for live facial recognition of people in public places,” the spokesperson said.
“While this type of technology is being used in some overseas jurisdictions, the system has been designed so that it cannot accept live video feeds such as CCTV.”
Murray, however, is not convinced.
“I don’t see that as expressly excluded from the bill nor do I see that’s something that wouldn’t be tempting for law enforcement down the track,” he said.
“Saying you’re not going to do something now with the possibility of creeping scope on this in the future isn’t an acceptable proposition in my view.”