Government pushes ahead with national facial recognition system

Unveils proposed legislation to establish federated facial recognition service

Home affairs minister Peter Dutton has introduced legislation that will lay the basis for a national facial recognition scheme accessible to federal, state and territory government agencies.

The Council of Australian Governments in October 2017 signed an agreement — the Intergovernmental Agreement on Identity Matching Services — to use key identity documents such as held by each jurisdiction to establish a national facial recognition service.

The signatories agreed to introduce legislation that would facilitate a set of identity-matching services operated by the Department of Home Affairs.

The new system outlined in the Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 will operate as a query and response system, similar to the current federal Face Verification Service (FVS). (A separate piece of enabling legislation was also introduced today: the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-Matching Services) Bill 2018.)

The design means that the storage of images, such as driver’s licence images held by state governments, and passport, citizenship and visa images held by the federal government, will remain the responsibility of the originating agency.

The proposed legislation outlines five facial recognition services, each of which will have different requirements for access:

• The FVS, which will allow both government agencies and businesses to verify an identity (a user can check that that image of an individual on an ID document matches the image on file).

• The Face Identification Service (FIS), which will be available to law enforcement, intelligence and anti-corruption agencies and can be used to search for the identity of an individual based on an image.

• The One Person One Licence Service (OPOLS), which allows state and territory authorities to check that a person doesn’t hold multiple driver’s licences (or similar IDs) across multiple jurisdictions.

• The Facial Recognition Analysis Utility Service (FRAUS), which will allow state and territory agencies that contribute images to the new National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution (NDLFRS) to check the quality of their biometric data; for example driver's licence authorities detecting duplicate records or detecting and replacing poor quality photos.

• The Identity Data Sharing Service (IDSS), which will allow for biometric data to be shared between federal, state and territory agencies via the interoperability hub that will be maintained by Home Affairs.

The bill will establish the NDLFRS, which will be run by Home Affairs and act as a federated database of identification information.

The government says that the new system will help combat identity theft because the existing Document Verification Service (DVS) can’t tell if a fraudulent photo is used with otherwise legitimate details on an ID document.

“Current image-based methods of identifying an unknown person can also be slow, difficult to audit, and often involve manual tasking between requesting agencies and data holding agencies, sometimes taking several days or longer to process,” the bill’s explanatory memorandum states.

“This impedes the ability of government agencies to identify a person of interest quickly. The identity-matching services will streamline these processes by providing authorised agencies with the means to rapidly share and match facial images drawn from existing databases in order to identify unknown persons, and detect people using multiple fraudulent identities.”

In addition to national security and law enforcement benefits, the government claims that the new system can make it easier for people to access both public and private services including by providing “greater identity assurance for private sector entities seeking to comply with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulations”.

The bill prohibits unauthorised recording and disclosure of information connected with the new electronic hub or the NDLFRS.

The department will have to produce an annual report on the use of the new services. A review of the legislation will be required within five years of it commencing.

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