Biometric visas enlisted to help fight terrorism

Federal Government releases new White Paper outlining measures to counter terrorism

The Federal Government has released a white paper on terrorism that outlines several roles for ICT. Image Credit: Department of Defence

The Federal Government has released a white paper on terrorism that outlines several roles for ICT. Image Credit: Department of Defence

The Federal Government has tipped $69 million into a new biometric visa system which will screen visitors entering Australia from a secret list of 10 countries.

The system will be deployed over four years as part of new Defence efforts that saw terrorism formalised as a permanent threat to the country.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd released the Counter-Terrorism White Paper and told press at Parliament House that terrorism is now regarded as a permanent feature of national security.

He said the government will reveal the list of countries set for biometric visa screening once the system is live, and may also expand the list.

“We also do not draw a particular line around the 10 [countries]…We reserve to ourselves the right to expand this network further,” Rudd said.

“But we are doing so carefully on the advice of the officials in terms of those parts of the world where we believe we have the greatest potential vulnerability.”

The system will involve fingerprint and facial imaging technology, and a new Counter-Terrorism Control Centre to improve counter-terrorism responsiveness.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the government may undertake a “diplomatic effort” with the listed countries.

The white paper details new Defence capabilities in telecommunications interception, new identity crime and soon to be reviewed counter-terrorism laws, and the creation of the National Security College to boost education and training in national security policy.

The college will be jointly run by the Federal Government and the Australian National University to retrain senior national security officials.

Under new identity crime laws, more agencies will this year begin using the Federal Government’s online Document Verification Service which verifies the identity credentials of individuals applying for high value benefits or services.

The Council of Australian Governments will review federal counter-terrorism legislation later this year, and will “keep these powers under review against any further need to expand them or tailor them to deal with any changes in the nature of the threat in the future”, according to the white paper.

The announcement follows, revelations Australia's biggest banks, telcos, and utilities have handed sensitive data to government for the protection of critical infrastructure (CI) against terrorism and natural disasters.

The rare move, which began in 2009, makes the country one of a few in the world with a centralised national critical infrastructure protection model.

The Critical Infrastructure Protection Modeling and Assessment (CIPMA) program was launched in 2007 and received a $23.4 million funding boost to 2012 in last year's budget.

It is spearheaded by the Federal Attorney-General which received a $15.2 million share and its research department Geoscience Australia which scored $800,000.

The CIPMA program is also an initiative of the Trusted Information Sharing Network formed to examine the relationships and dependencies between CI systems and how failures in one sector affect other sector operations.

In January, the Federal Government also moved to step up its cyber warfare defence capabilities with the opening of the Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) announced as part of the Defence White Paper released last year.

The centre, housed inside the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) headquarters in Canberra, will provide critical understanding of the threat from sophisticated cyber attacks, according to the minister for defence, senator John Faulkner.

In November 2009, Computerworld revealed the CSOC had already reached some operational capability but an acute lack of information on the offensive capabilities being developed remains with the government and Defence department refusing to divulge details.

There is also little clarity around its governance or oversight mechanisms, a circumstance that sparked calls from academics and information security analysts for greater public debate and disclosure.

Also in early November, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) confirmed that Internet-based attacks have been used by hostile intelligence services to gain confidential Australian Government and business information. That same month the Government created a new national computer emergency response team, CERT Australia.

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Tags department of defenceCounter-Terrorism White PaperbiometricsCritical Infrastructure Protection Modeling and Assessment (CIPMA) programCyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC)

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