The Capability: Facial recognition, privacy and regulating new technology
I By Dr Monique Mann
n late 2015 the Commonwealth government announced that a national facial recognition system - the National Facial Biometrics Matching Capability or simply ‘The Capability’- would be implemented. This system will use existing identification documents, such as licences and passports, to extract and share biometric information between state, territory and national government databases. As is often the case in relation to technological developments, regulation and the legal system have lagged behind. Given limitations in Australia’s privacy framework, such as an absence of a constitutional bill of rights or a privacy tort, there are limited privacy protections in relation to biometric information, and those that do exist are subject to carve outs and law enforcement exemptions. Automated Facial Recognition Technology AFRT systems digitise, store and compare facial templates that measure the relative position of facial features. These processes extend privacy considerations beyond the capture of photographs as they enable automated sorting, database storage, information sharing and integration. AFRT can be used to conduct one-to-one matching to verify identity, or one-to-many searching of databases to identify unknown persons. It identifies individuals and provides a gateway to the large and ever expanding databases held by government, law enforcement and security agencies. Further, photographs (and therefore facial templates) from data rich environments such as social media can be mined
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and integrated into big data used for law enforcement and security purposes. AFRT can be conducted from a distance and can be integrated with existing surveillance systems such as CCTV (known as ‘Smart CCTV’), enabling tracking through public places. There have been recent moves to trial a Smart CCTV system known as ‘iOmniscient’ by Australian councils, including in a Toowoomba library. The Capability The Capability will initially involve the sharing of facial templates between agencies including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and the Australian Federal Police, with access expanding to other agencies in time. For example, the Digital Transformation Agency is considering the possibly of The Capability forming the foundation of the new Trusted Digital Identity Framework, which will become the basis of identification verification for all interactions with Commonwealth Government systems and services. However, individuals who consented to providing a photograph to obtain a passport did not consent to their facial templates being extracted from that image to be used for law enforcement, security, intelligence or other purposes. This is an example of function creep, where information collected for one purpose is used for secondary purposes for which consent was neither sought nor obtained. The Capability is being established in a manner that
Published on Apr 7, 2017
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