Face to face with Big Brother

drivers license oz.jpg
  • National biometric database to fight terrorism, identity theft and serious crimes 
  • Drivers' licences to start to be loaded into Home Affairs new database soon
  • The new database can also be used in the prevent outbreaks of serious diseases

A national facial recognition database system is set to become Australia's latest weapon in the crackdown against terrorism, identity theft and serious crimes.

Millions of driver's licences will start to be loaded into the Department of Home Affairs new biometric database within months, which every Australian drivers licence could be linked within 18 months, The Courier-Mail has revealed.

Police are currently being trained to use the Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution, the publication reported.

Firearms, fishing and proof-of-age cards can also be uploaded into the system which can hold up to 30 million licences.

The aim of the database is to give national and state law enforcement agencies a new crime fighting tool in their crackdown against terrorism, identity theft and serious crime. 

To solve serious crimes, police will be able to run CCTV through the database, which will bring up to 20 possible suspects.

The database will also prevent outbreaks of serious diseases, where health agencies can request police to track down members of the public who came into contact with someone carrying a disease.

While all states and territories agreed to the identity-matching services last year, the  federal government is yet to get new laws passed through parliament.

Privacy has been raised as a concern, along with the vulnerabilities of biometrics.

Around half of Australia's population already have some type of visual biometric stored in a nationally-accessible database, according to technology and legal expert Professor Katina Michael.

She told the ABC earlier this year that figure to grow will 80 per cent with the inclusion of drivers licences.

'It's not like a one-on-one match, where you put (in) an individual's face and say: 'they're a suspect',' Professor Michael said.

'But rather what you get returned is a number of possibilities … you might get back 15, or 20, or 30, or 50 matches.'

Citation: Kylie Stevens, August 6, 2018, "Face to face with Big Brother: Millions of driver's licences to be linked to proposed national facial recognition database", DailyMail: Australia, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6028795/Millions-drivers-licences-linked-proposed-national-facial-recognition-database.html

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.

Living In A Smart World

Key Link

Authors

Author: Tiffany Hoy, Editor: Wang Yuanyuan, Global Times - Xinhua China
Katina MichaelUniversity of Wollongong

Abstract

As "smart" devices continue to advance, government regulation is lagging far behind, leaving citizens vulnerable to giving away their private information without their knowledge, said Katina Michael, vice chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation.

People sometimes don't even know what embedded sensors are in the devices that they're carrying, Michael said, but the information that they record can be pieced together to create a frightening surveillance profile. "There are many social implications if I know your whereabouts 24 x 7. I can track your location history, for example -- I know exactly where you were on the Earth's surface, I know how fast you were traveling which tells me your mode of transport, if any, and I'm probably able to infer what you were doing," said Michael.

"If I know through the devices that you're carrying: who you are -- through your ID, where you are -- through GPS or wifi enablement, when you were there -- through a timestamp, and what you were doing -- through the visual imagery you are taking photos or records of, then we pretty much know what is actually in your mind," she added.

Moving towards a more transparent society, where mobile recording devices can be used to capture what's happening at any given time -- with life-bloggers recording every waking moment through autography devices, and police use dashboard cameras and headsets to record video later used as evidence in court, also comes with a trade-off: the erosion of personal privacy.

"There's an asymmetry involved here. The wearer of these wearable devices is always a more powerful constituent in this relationship. Those individuals who choose not to be a part of this new information society may find themselves on the wrong side of any particular imbalance," Michael said. "The asymmetry gets greater and greater as the number of devices grow, (between) those that have wearables and those who don't, and those who don't wish to participate and live off-grid. "Yes we understand that once we step out our front door we can' t expect privacy. But private things can be gathered, such as the clothes that we wear, the places that we frequent, if I want to go to a religious building on a weekend ... I should have an expectation of privacy and there should not be recordings of me going about my everyday life," she added.

Suggested Citation

Global Times - Xinhua China and Katina Michael. "Living in a smart world" Global Times Jun. 2013.