ACT Government highlights longstanding concerns regarding facial recognition databases

November 6, 2015 |

It is not common for a Government to highlight privacy concerns about technology, particularly regarding law and order technology.  Usually privacy and data protection is an afterthought. The Canberra Times reports on the ACT Government highlighting the very serious concerns about facial recognition databases which the Federal Government announced, known as the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability database.  Facial recognition technology is far from accurate, giving rise to both false positives and false negatives. It is fundamentally important that there are controls on the use of a database which contains information collected for a particular purpose not to be misued for other purposes.  Unfortunately there is a tendency for agencies to claim a use which is more a matter of want than need.  Some agencies have a poor culture in using sensitive data, the police being a leader of that pack.  The ongoing problems with misuse of the Victorian Police LEAP database is notorious.  The punishment for those caught misusing the system is civil and ranges from the weak to the moderate.  Not enough to be efffective.

The Victorian Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection has released an information sheet on Biometrics and privacy.

Unfortunately with the Privacy Act, to the extent that it applies, being regulated in such an ineffective manner the potential for abuse is considerable.

The article, ACT government raises serious privacy concerns over facial recognition database provides:

The ACT government has expressed serious concerns about a new facial recognition database that would give “unprecedented and extraordinary” powers to police.In September, the federal government announced the setting up of the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability database, which allows police to match a photo of an unknown person with numerous government records.

The ACT Attorney-General, Simon Corbell, warned of privacy issues regarding the database at a Law, Crime and Community Safety Council meeting in Canberra on Thursday.

“Most citizens are unaware that the Commonwealth and other state governments are actively working to make driver’s licence images available to be searched and compared for a broad range of purposes by government agencies,” Mr Corbell said.
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“Parts of the Commonwealth government’s proposal, specifically around facial identification, will give law enforcement and other agencies an unprecedented and extraordinary level of access to biometric and biographical information.”

Mr Corbell said the proposal leaves sensitive information vulnerable to being shared for purposes beyond serious criminal matters and could eventually be used by the private sector.

“As it stands such changes could be made without reference to any parliamentary oversight,” he said.

“In this context, it is the ACT’s view that wholesale population level comparison of facial images goes well beyond what is reasonable and proportionate in a free and democratic society.”

He said privacy impact assessments have so far ignored “key issues” about what information could be accessed, who could access it and when it could be accessed.

The ACT government initially supported the proposed Facial Verification Service, but it is calling for further privacy tests before it supports this part of the system. It stressed it will work with other state governments to ensure these concerns are a common first priority.

The Law, Crime and Community Safety Council meeting brings together Australia’s law, justice, police and emergency management ministers.

One Response to “ACT Government highlights longstanding concerns regarding facial recognition databases”

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