The government has rejected calls for a warrant requirement for government agencies seeking to access a proposed national facial recognition system.
The Department of Home Affairs has also indicated that the government views concerns over private sector access to one of the system’s key services to be overblown.
The government in February introduced in parliament proposed legislation to create a national facial recognition scheme. The system outlined by the Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 (and a related bill, Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-Matching Services) Bill 2018) would not just be accessible to authorised state, federal and territory government agencies — one of the major elements of it could also be made available to commercial organisations such as banks.
The system would function in a federated manner: A hub operated by the Department of Home Affairs would facilitate the exchange of biometric data when necessary, but wouldn't itself store biometric data.
Five facial recognition-based systems are envisaged by the proposed legislation. Two of the most significant will be the Face Identification Service (FIS), which will allow law enforcement, intelligence and anti-corruption agencies to attempt the identification of an individual based on a photograph, and the Face Verification Service (FVS).
The FVS is already functioning and the government has previously indicated that it planned to offer access to some private-sector organisations. It allows an organisation to check that that face on an ID document matches the face on file.
The FIS will remain the domain of law enforcement, however, according to Home Affairs.
Private sector access to the FVS will be similar to current arrangements for the government-run Document Verification Service (DVS), Home Affairs said in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the bills. The online DVS service allows organisations to verify details of proof of identity documents.
Expanding access to the FVS will help prevent identity crime, the government argues.
“Private sector access to the FVS would be on similar terms to the DVS, notably that they must collect the consent of individuals before seeking to match images through the service,” Home Affairs said.
However, the department acknowledged that some organisations had failed to comply with the conditions of access to the DVS: “Governance of the DVS involves robust contractual arrangements and a comprehensive programme of independent audits of users of the services which has resulted in suspension of access to the service for some entities for non-compliance with DVS terms and conditions.”
The department also addressed concerns that the government through regulation would be able to increase the types of biometric data covered by the new national system.
Home Affairs said that the proposed legislation would not on its own authorise the collection and exchange of additional biometrics; instead agencies would need to have their own legislative basis for collecting and sharing biometrics.
Home Affairs said that there should not be a warrant required in order to access the Face ID system.
“Such a requirement would have a significant impact on the ability of law enforcement or other agencies to use the services in the course of their activities,” the department said.
“There are relatively few circumstances where law enforcement agencies would need a warrant to obtain information needed to identify a person, or to verify a claimed identity,” the department said. “In addition, the governance arrangements for access to the services, particularly the FIS, have strict controls to ensure access is lawful and proportionate.”
“The face-matching services are designed to provide fast and automated access to identity verification and identification using facial images,” the department said.
One of the key benefits of the new system will be “the increased speed with which these agencies can determine the identity of a person of interest, and take any steps necessary to protect the community from harm.”
The department acknowledged, however, that “it is not yet clear how often government agencies will use the services”.