Agencies may access IDs

Government agencies could get approved access to part of the Commonwealth's newly proposed facial recognition program.

The Facial Verification Service, part of the federal government's new "Capability" program, would be accessible by departments such as the Department of Human Services or the Australian Taxation Office.

The system would be used to provide a one-for-one match from a person's existing photo with any other government-issued identities they may hold, rather than returning multiple potential matches.

The Attorney-General's Department said government agencies and private businesses would have to complete a privacy impact statement before given access.

"Organisations using the service would need to demonstrate their lawful basis to do so under the Privacy Act, and could only use the FVS where they gain a person's consent to use their images," a spokesman said.

Surveillance expert Professor Katina Michael of the University of Wollongong said access should only be granted on a case-by-case basis, concerned that Capability could be linked to a person's metadata or even tax file number.

"What I can't understand is it's open at all times indefinitely," Professor Michael said. "That is not professional. It's warrantless searching."

She also raised concerns about the private sector having access to the system.

"It's going to be bidirectional. This is a lovely symbiosis between government and industry. This is the only way that government can crawl their way into the data sets of Facebook and Google."

When originally launched in November, the FVS used photos captured by the Australian Border Force from passports or citizenship photos, and was only available to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Australian Federal Police.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced it would establish the national facial recognition system drawing on issued identification from all Australian jurisdictions allowing FVS users to access state or territory databases.

The Capability now comprises three parts, the Document Verification Service, the FVS and the Facial Identification Service.

The FIS allows law enforcement to scan photos of unknown persons and match them with multiple government records.

"For example, it can be used to identify a suspected paedophile from child exploitation material, or to identify an armed offender from a still image taken from CCTV footage," a spokesman said. There were no current plans to expand access to the FIS.

But Professor Michael was concerned the FIS would eventually be opened up to other agencies and the private sector.

Finbar O'Mallon, October 15, 2017, "Agencies may access IDs", Canberra Times, p. 8.

Limits on use of facial recognition system

The ACT government has ruled out the possibility of Access Canberra using the federal government's proposed facial recognition technology to pursue unpaid fines.

Under a Council Of Australian Government agreement, Access Canberra - the territory's one-stop shop for government utilities, services and support - would be able to use the National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution or the "Capability".

According to the agreement, the ACT will pay the Commonwealth $20,000 a year to operate and maintain the system, and any costs related to integrating the ACT's database with the Capability would be the territory's responsibility.

ACT Policing would also have access to the technology.

The ACT government confirmed it had "no intention" of using the technology more broadly.

"The capacity for government agencies to use the Capability is still being finalised," a government spokesperson said. "The government has no plan to broaden Access Canberra's use of the system."

The government has ruled out using the system to verify people's identities, pursue parking infringements or any other responsibilities that fall to the services agency.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr was the sole state or territory leader to raise privacy concerns over the system, which the government stressed would be necessary for counter-terrorism.

The ACT government said it would only provide one-for-one matches, where the system returns a single identical match to a searched face, rather than multiple possible matches from searches in the One Person One Licence System (OPOLS).

Surveillance expert Professor Katina Michael from the University of Wollongong said one-to-one matches would help prevent innocent Canberrans being inadvertently targeted in an investigation. A search that returned multiple possible matches, she said, could create false positives for investigators.

"You don't want fuzzy matches," Professor Michael said.

The agreement did not permanently rule out the ACT's database being used in OPOLS searches. It stated there would not be any participation in the OPOLS "at this stage".

Mr Barr said he had requested restrictions on the use of the Capability so as to meet the ACT's Human Rights Act.

Citation: Finbar O'Mallon, October 15, 2017, "Limits on use of facial recognition system", Canberra Times, p. 2.