Scheduled Facial Recognition Public Inquiry Cancelled by Australian Government

Media release:

Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc (EFA) is concerned that a joint parliamentary inquiry public hearing into Australia’s proposed national facial recognition database was cancelled on Wednesday.

The scheduled hearing was part of the inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and it was expected to review two bills. These were the Identity-Matching Services Bill 2019 and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2019.

Witnesses were due to give evidence to the committee on Friday 18 October 2019 in Parliament House in Canberra.

The witnesses due to speak were from: Electronic Frontiers Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission, Law Council of Australia, Human Rights Law Centre, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Home Affairs. 

The bills are underpinning a move to create a massive expansion of storage of biometric data – being photos of people’s faces – which will be fed into by Australian states and territories’ drivers’ licence photos as well as passport photos.

National concerns around facial recognition systems have been fuelled by recent international events including yesterday’s revelation that China has mandated people will need to scan their faces before accessing the internet or obtaining a new phone number as part of a social credit system. In addition, facial recognition played a role in recent protests inHong Kong.

The Information Commissioner in the United Kingdom, Elizabeth Denham, made a statement in relation to the use of live facial recognition technology on 15 August 2019. 

In a statement on her website she said: “Scanning peoples’ faces as they lawfully go about their daily lives, in order to identify them, is a potential threat to privacy that should concern us all.

“That is especially the case if it is done without people’s knowledge or understanding. I remain deeply concerned about the growing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, not only by law enforcement agencies, but also increasingly by the private sector.”

The Chair of EFA’s Policy Committee, Mr Angus Murray due to give evidence at the inquiry said: “We don’t know why the public hearing has been cancelled. It is our view that the scope of the Bills dramatically and inappropriately exceeds Australian’s reasonable expectations to human rights protections including the right to privacy and freedom of association. It is incongruous to accept that a person who obtained a driver’s licence in say 2005, would have consented that their licence photo would have been used for anything other than roadside identification purposes. We look forward to hearing when the public hearing will be rescheduled.”

Inquiry Website:

EFA Submission:

Contact: Angus Murray
 [email protected]

Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. (EFA) is a non-profit national organisation that has been promoting and protecting digital rights (civil liberties) in Australia since it was established in January 1994.


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