The latest mass shooting in Las Vegas over the weekend has provided an opportunity for Prime Minister Turnbull to increase focus on the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability at the Coalition of Australian Governments counter-terror meeting scheduled to occur tomorrow (5th October).
The Attorney General’s Department states that the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability is another tool to prevent terrorism by “sharing and matching of facial images from existing records between those agencies with a lawful basis to do so”. Essentially, the Government is proposing that State- and Territory-issued Driver’s Licences, which contain a “treasure trove” of information, including facial information, will be shared between law enforcement agencies in the hope of preventing terrorism in Australia.
This proposal reminds us of the mandatory data retention discussion which shouldn’t have faded from memory. The issues are similar, although the risks inherent in mass facial recognition capability are arguably more clearly concerning. In short, this is yet another proposal that will enable warrantless surveillance of the entire population, without either a clear cost justification or clear evidence that facial recognition is capable of prospectively preventing terrorism, or other serious crimes, thereby continuing the theme of treating all citizens as suspects.
Similar technology is already in use in 18 states in the US. Not only is it clear that this technology has failed to prevent the mass killings which have become heart-breakingly routine in the US, there are also reports of a 15% false-positive rate, suggesting that this is a far from mature technology.
EFA considers this to be just the latest incremental (and probably irreversible) increase in temperature to the pot that’s slowing boiling the privacy rights of Australians. Meanwhile, we still don’t have an enforceable right to privacy or a civil course of action to seek redress for serious invasion of privacy.
Even the Privacy Impact Assessment from the Attorney General’s Department notes the potential massive scope of this proposal, saying that the “scope of NFBMC (National Facial Biometric Matching Capability)... seems very broad and which, with the inclusion of service delivery, seems to anticipate facial biometrics being used in the context of almost all government activities”.
The Prime Minister meets with the Coalition of Australian Governments for the counter-terror meeting tomorrow (5th October). We will be closely watching the outcome of this meeting and will continue to campaign for the protection of what’s left of the privacy rights of all Australians.