Home Government Tech Policy Facial recognition regime far too broad, says rights body
Facial recognition regime far too broad, says rights body Featured

Australia's proposed national facial recognition regime is too broad in its scope and will curtail the freedom of people who are merely going about their daily routines, the Human Rights Law Centre has told a parliamentary committee inquiring into the proposed law.

The Centre's director of legal advocacy, Dr Aruna Sathanapally, said the database of proposed images would include the majority of the populace.

“In other countries, there is serious debate about the police retaining the images of innocent people," she said on Tuesday.

"Yet, here in Australia, our government is proposing letting not only police, but government departments, local councils, transport authorities and even private companies, access and search for matches across a database that will collate Australians’ personal information, linked to a biometric profile of their face.”

The Federal Government and the states agreed after a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments in October last year to set up the national facial database, that would also use photos from drivers' licences.

The face matching services will include face verification service, face identification service, one person one licence service and a facial recognition analysis utility service. Privacy groups have criticised the proposal.

The Centre questioned whether there was evidence to justify these expanded powers and sought detail on how the government proposed to regulate the face recognition capabilities.

“Facial recognition and biometric technology threaten to outpace the laws we have in place," Dr Sathanapally said.

"What the government is proposing would effectively leave the rules governing new, powerful forms of surveillance to be worked out by the Home Affairs department and in the hands of the Home Affairs Minister (Peter Dutton).

"Frankly, this isn’t good enough for such a dramatic new set of powers, not in a democracy."

The proposed law also posed risks to freedom of expression and other democratic rights, the Centre claimed.

Dr Sathanapally said: "Those attending a public meeting, a protest or a vigil should not have to reveal their identities to exercise their democratic right to engage with others and gather peacefully."

She said that there were doubts about the efficacy of face recognition technology, pointing out that during a recent police operation at the Notting Hill Carnival in London up to 98% of the results had wrongly identified people.

“We need to tread carefully with technology that carries high rates of false matches in general, and in particular, when faced with an individual belonging to a minority ethnic group," Dr Sathanapally said.

"When false matches are made, innocent people will suffer the consequences, and already disadvantaged minorities may bear the brunt of this. These new tools risk eroding trust in government agencies, law enforcement and security agencies unless we have robust testing and safeguards in place.”

The Centre's submission to the inquiry is here.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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