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Australia approves national database of everyone's mugshots

Federal Police won't need to wait a week any more to see you smile

Updated Australia is to build a national database of as many citizens' images as it can, with state premiers rubber-stamping prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's plan to add drivers' licenses to a national facial recognition database.

The plan, called overreach by rights activists like Digital Rights Watch's chair Tim Singleton Norton, has been considered since at least 2015.

A communiqué issued by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) today at midday made only brief mention of the project, as follows:

Leaders agreed to establish a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability and signed an Intergovernmental Agreement on Identity Matching Services. This will help to protect Australians by making it easier for security and law enforcement agencies to identify people who are suspects or victims of terrorist or other criminal activity, and prevent the use of fake or stolen identities — which is a key enabler of terrorism and other serious crime. Under the Agreement, agencies in all jurisdictions will be able to use new face matching services to access passport, visa, citizenship and driver licence images – while maintaining robust privacy safeguards.

The nature of the privacy safeguards was not detailed in the communiqué, nor did COAG provide any implementation detail.

While the communiqué described the capability as focussing on identity fraud, yesterday Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Andrew Colvin told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's PM radio program the problem it solves is administrative.

In this segment Colvin explained that under current arrangements, it takes too long – up to a week – for state agencies like police services to provide photos in response to an AFP request.

In parallel with building an involuntary no-opt-out identity database of any Australian photographed by a government agency, assistant minister for cities and digital transformation Angus Taylor re-announced government plans for an opt-in database of everybody under the auspices of Turnbull’s Transformers the Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

Industry will get the chance to give the DTO feedback on project standards, Fairfax reports, ahead of wider testing once the DTO's AU$40 million GovPass system gets past beta. ®

Update: More detail has since landed at the COAG site, here [PDF]. Vulture South will give the document a closer read tomorrow.

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