Government to push for expansion of biometric surveillance

Seeks to have states hand over driver’s licence photos

The federal government will seek to have state and territory governments hand over photographs of all licensed drivers for use in a national facial recognition program.

In an interview with ABC Radio this morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the federal government already held photos of around half of Australia’s population, including from passports.

“We believe if we bring together driver's licences, then we can start to build up a national system that will enable us then more quickly to identify people, particularly to be able to identify people that are suspected of, or involved in, terrorist activities,” Turnbull said.

The database could be used to boost security in locations such as airports and “absolutely could be” used in places such as malls.

The aim is to make driver’s licence photos “immediately available, combine them with other biometric data like passport photographs, for example, that the Commonwealth has, so that we're in a position to identify people in real time,” Turnbull told a press conference this morning.

The PM gave the example of identifying an individual suspected of being involved in “terrorist activities” when he or she walks into an airport or a sporting stadium.

The PM acknowledged in his radio interview that there could be a security risk in maintaining a large biometric system but said that “you can't allow the risk of hacking to prevent you from doing everything you can to keep Australians safe.”

“[T]he focus, obviously, is to constantly improve our cyber security,” Turnbull said.

“I've made it a big priority of my government. We have a cyber security strategy that is actually, that is underway, that is internationally respected and being emulated.”

The government in 2015 announced would spend $18.5 million to establish the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability. A key part of that is the Face Verification Service (FVS), which launched in late 2016.

The FVS doesn’t involve a centralised database but has a hub and spoke architecture that allows participating agencies to exchange biometric data.

It currently has three key components: Verifying that the image of an individual on an ID document matches that on file; retrieving a facial image and other data associated with a particular record based on a document ID number; and using a photograph of a face combined with a name and date of birth to search available data and return a matching record.

The Attorney-General’s Department has indicated it expects to launch a Face Identification Service (FIS) this year, which would enable the identification of an individual based purely on an image of their face.

The FIS will enable ‘one to many’ matching: For example ascertaining, the ID of an unknown individual based purely on an image of their face.

Turnbull also revealed that the government would seek to introduce a law that enabled the detention of terrorism suspects for up to 14 days without being charged.

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