Optus has endorsed the creation of a national biometrics system that will offer services based on a range of facial images held by federal, state and territory bodies.
The government earlier this year resurrected two bills that lapsed when parliament was dissolved in preparation for the federal election.
The bills will create a new system (dubbed ‘The Capability’) with a hub and spoke architecture that will facilitate access to a range of separately maintained databases containing facial images, such as state and territory driver’s licence databases. A range of services will be delivered through the system, including facial verification and facial identification services.
The government has indicated it is keen to have the enabling federal legislation passed before the end of 2019. Eventual private sector access to some services has long been on the government’s radar.
While the Facial Identification Service (FIS) will be restricted to law enforcement, anti-corruption and intelligence agencies, the Face Verification Service (FVS), the first phase of which launched in 2016, will potentially be used by non-government organisations.
The FVS is in some ways a successor to the Document Verification Service (DVS), which is currently available to the private sector. The DVS allows an entity to confirm whether the information on a document such as a licence or a Medicare card matches that held by the government agency that issued it (details of a document can’t be retrieved using the DVS; only whether the details submitted in a query match those held on file).
The bills to facilitate The Capability are currently being examined by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). In their current form, the bills would allow non-government access to the FVS (subject to a range of conditions).
In its submission to the PJCIS inquiry, Optus said it “faces a responsibility to continue to explore ways to improve and enhance its customer identity validation techniques and capability.”
The telco currently uses the DVS to validate customer ID documents.
“However, the current DVS system only validates if an ID document exists with the relevant agency and if some of the ID information (name, etc) matches, but it cannot currently verify that the person whose photo appears on the ID document that has been provided to us is the same person whose photo appears on the actual ID document,” Optus’ submission states.
“The lack of a current facial verification service is a big limitation in the current ID matching systems,” the telco said.
It endorsed the government’s national identity security strategy and ID-matching bills, arguing that they “will assist Government to build better ID validation techniques through the sharing of ID information (including facial verification) between state, territory and federal agencies, and this will lead to better outcomes and enhanced protections for Australian consumers and the businesses that rely on Government ID verification tools.”
Private sector access to the FVS has also been supported by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association.
“We ... welcome the Bill and support the development of a co-ordinated national approach to
both identity verification and the use of facial recognition technology,” AMTA said in its submission
“We strongly support providing access to the Facial Verification Service for mobile service providers for the purposes of compliance with identity check regulations for mobile prepaid services.”
The Victorian government last year indicated it was uneasy with the proposed provisions governing private sector access to the services delivered via the federal hub, which will be operated by the Department of Home Affairs.