Government releases privacy impact assessment for face-matching scheme


news The government has released a preliminary Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) for the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability – a face-matching scheme that is aimed to help government agencies combat identity crime, organised crime and terrorism.

The scheme enables law enforcement and selected government agencies to share and match photographs on identity documents such as passports to strengthen identity-checking processes, while supposedly maintaining strong privacy safeguards.

In an announcement made by Michael Keenan MP, Minister for Justice and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter Terrorism, it was noted that the release of this PIA coincides with the first anniversary of the Martin Place Siege, which led to the deaths of two people in an attack by an individual with mental illness, but who some claimed was a terrorist.

The PIA marks a “significant step” in the implementation of the facial-recognition scheme, which was one of the recommendations of the Martin Place Siege: Joint Commonwealth – New South Wales review. The PIA can be downloaded online here.

The review recommended greater use of biometrics to address weaknesses in current name-based identity checking arrangements that can enable people to use multiple identities when dealing with government agencies.

At last month’s Law, Crime and Community Safety Council (LCCSC) meeting, ministers noted the outcomes of the PIA and committed to push the development of an intergovernmental agreement on state and territory participation in the system, in consultation with transport ministers, for signature in early 2016.

The independent PIA supports the ‘hub and spoke’ design of the system, which enables agencies to share facial images without creating a new centralised database.

All the recommendations made in the PIA report have been accepted in part or full, according to the statement. Some of these recommendations relate to issues of broader national information sharing that are being developed with the states and territories via the LCCSC.

This preliminary assessment is the just the first of a series of PIAs that will be conducted throughout the design and implementation of the system, said Keenan. The scheme is expected to commence operation in mid-2016.

On 10 November, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government raised “fundamental concerns” about the proposed National Facial Biometric Matching Capability.

Originally a supporter of the scheme as an aid to police forces and government agencies, the territory’s governing authority expressed concerns over how facial recognition data could impact citizens’ right to privacy after it goes live next year.