NT govt earmarks funds for facial recognition system

Territory government’s budget puts funds towards implementing support for national biometrics system

Credit: facial recognition technology

The Northern Territory government has put $375,000 towards implementing NT support for a national biometrics matching system.

The funding, earmarked for the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, was contained in the NT budget, which was handed down today.

The Council of Australian Governments in October 2017 agreed to establish a national system supporting cross-jurisdiction face identification.

The system is intended to operate in a federated manner with a system operated by the Department of Home Affairs operating as a central hub.

Key pieces of Commonwealth enabling legislation — the Identity-matching Services Bill and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-Matching Services) Bill — were introduced in 2018 but lapsed without being passed after parliament was dissolved ahead of the federal election.

The proposed system (dubbed ‘The Capability’) would offer a variety of services based on facial biometrics, including facial verification, biometrics data sharing between federal, state and territory agencies, and facial identification.

Human rights and privacy advocacy groups have expressed alarm at the project. Although the Victorian government has supported the project, in 2018 it called for stricter governance measures to be implemented.

Home Affairs has rejected concerns about the system creating a framework for “mass surveillance”. Although the project was focused on facial verification and recognition, the 2018 bills would have potentially allowed the system to be expanded to other biometrics.

The increased accessibility of facial recognition technology has generated debate within the tech sector with AI researchers last month issuing an open letter calling on Amazon to stop selling its Rekognition service to law enforcement agencies.

The NT budget also included $10 million for an upgrade to the territory police force’s digital radio network and $9.45 million to boost telco services.

Those funds include $5.54 million for the optical fibre connection between Darwin and the Tiwi Islands being delivered by Vocus, as well as $4 million for the NT government’s regional telecommunications co-investment program with Telstra.

Last week the government said that $28 million over four years to 2022 would be set aside for the latest round of the Remote Telecommunications Co-Investment Program.

“Telecommunications infrastructure underpins all other digital initiatives,” said corporate and information services minister, Lauren Moss.

“Access to mobile communications infrastructure investment is opening up economic and social opportunities for residents and businesses in remote territory communities.”

The NT budget also included funds for a number of other ongoing programs including the territory’s mammoth Core Clinical Systems Renewal Program and the government’s data centre relocation project.

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