Australia builds facial recognition as a service for plod, spookhaüses

Come to pat Koalas, end up on mugshot cross-matching database with five eyes links

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Australia will establish a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability “to allow law enforcement and security agencies to match one photograph of an unknown person against many photographs contained in government records to help establish their identity.”

Those words come from the nation's minister for justice and minister assisting the prime minister of counter-terrorism, one Michael Keenan, who says “This process will expedite putting a name to the face of terror suspects, murderers, and armed robbers, and will also help to detect fraud cases involving criminals that use multiple identities.”

Keenan's assuring Australians, and visitors whose images are captured when applying for visas, that this program “will not be a centralised biometric database and will not retain or store any images that are shared between agencies.” Instead, it is “simply a mechanism to share existing information already held by jurisdictions.”

So far, so good for the war on terror and fight against organised crime. But let's not forget that Australia just gave itself the power to capture minors' biometrics at the border without the consent of their guardians and also collects biometrics from the millions who visit the nation each year to cuddle cute local animals . Those data points will be collected by an agency Border Force under the new program will be allowed to compare its colossal collection of facial snaps with Australia's police and security forces. The latter regularly share data with partners in the five eyes security alliance.

Citizens and visitors alike are promised “strong privacy safeguards, informed by independent privacy impact assessments.”

What could possibly go wrong with that? Well Australia's law enforcement community has form abusing data and surveilling members of Parliament. Both incidents were well beyond activities allowed by relevant local legislation.

Let's hope that lots of the AU$18.5 million assigned to to build the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability goes towards the promised “strong privacy safeguards,” shall we? ®


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