Plan has privacy advocates calling for creation of new 'Biometrics Commissioner'
The Australian government intends to add citizen’s passport photos to a national facial recognition database to be used for its Govpass digital identity system and criminal justice purposes. These 12 million records will bolster the system launched in 2016, which previously held only images of foreigners seeking Australian citizenship. But it has privacy advocates pushing for creation of a new national commissioner with biometrics oversight.
In addition to the passport photos, InnovationAus.com reported that negotiations are underway that could result in the inclusion of millions of driver license images as well.
The facial recognition system can assist law enforcement in identifying suspects from crime scene photos or video surveillance and it can help guard against identity theft by matching an applicant’s image against a pre-collected facial biometric.
When the Digital Transformation Agency launches Govpass, Australia’s new digital identity framework, the face recognition is expected to help secure the application process.
But critics say that while Govpass will be an opt-in service, the face recognition is not.
There are actually two separate programs in question. The Face Verification Service allows agencies to verify an identity and will support Govpass, while the Face Identification System attempts to match a photo of an unknown person against government records to establish their identity.
The latter will be used to detect people using fraudulent identities and identify crime suspects. Access to this service will be limited to police and security agencies.
A privacy impact assessment was conducted in 2015 but it focused on the design and governance rather than privacy protection. Recent academic research has led to the call for creation of a biometrics commissioner to address the governance gap.