The government says it will seek to have two key pieces of enabling legislation for a national facial identification and verification system introduced into parliament and passed before the end of the year.
The Identity-Matching Services Bill and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill were originally introduced in the House of Representatives in early 2018. The bills were referred to a number of parliamentary committees, including the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), for inquiry, and lapsed when parliament was dissolved ahead of the May 2019 election.
The Identity-Matching Services Bill will “authorise the Department of Home Affairs to collect, use and disclose identification information to provide identity matching services that employ facial biometric matching, when used for the purposes of fraud prevention, law enforcement, national security and related purposes,” states a document listing legislation the government proposes to introduce during the winter/spring sittings of parliament.
The bills are part of establishing a federated system that would deliver access to selected image databases held by federal, state and territory governments. The basis for the system was laid by Australian governments in October 2017 signing an agreement on establishing Identity Matching Services (IMS).
The proposed system — dubbed ‘The Capability’ — would operate on a hub-and-spoke model, with the Department of Home Affairs operating the ‘hub’. The proposed system wouldn’t see the centralisation of existing databases (such as passport images and drivers’ licences). Instead, a query could be routed to the databases maintained by different jurisdictions.
If the bills the government introduces are identical to those that lapsed at the previous parliament’s dissolution, then the system will offer five key services. One would be based on the current Facial Verification Service, which enables an authorised government agency or business to confirm that the image on a photo ID matches that image on file.
A powerful Face Identification Service (FIS) will allow police and intelligence organisations to conduct a search for the identity of an individual based on an image. Other proposed services are the One Person One Licence Service (OPOLS), a biometrics quality assurance tool called the Facial Recognition Analysis Utility Service (FRAUS), and the Identity Data Sharing Service (IDSS), which will facilitate sharing of biometric data between state, territory and federal government agencies.
Home Affairs has previously rejected calls for use of the FIS to require a warrant.
Although all states and territories signed the IMS agreement, Victoria last year expressed unease with aspects of the governance arrangements for the system, as well as the potential for authorised non-government access to its capabilities.
Human rights and civil liberties organisations are also concerned, although the federal government argues that the proposed services, which will operate on a query and response model, are not intended for mass surveillance.