National Security Committee Slaps Down Customs' Biometric Data Collection Plans

Part of the Government’s ongoing National Security agenda would see the Australian Customs and Border Protection agency gather oodles of biometric data on travellers going in and out of Australia and share it with various law enforcement agencies around the country. The plan may be headed for a happy derailment, however, after a bi-partisan Parliamentary oversight committee examining the new legislation today backhanded the expanded biometric data collection and sharing program.

The Government’s proposed Foreign Fighters Bill designed to cut down on the number of Australians leaving the country to fight alongside extremist groups like ISIS is currently being debated before Parliament. The Bill grants security and spying organisations like ASIO and the AFP sweeping new powers that allow for unprecedented, warrantless searches of homes and businesses, as well as the ability to detain individuals without charge for a longer period of time. The Bill would also make it illegal for Australians to travel to declared war zones regardless of the reason given.

Alongside those powers, Customs and Border Protection would dramatically expand its biometric data collection program for passengers going in and out of Australia

Right now, the Government with the support of the Labor Party is attempting to ram the Bill through both Houses of Parliament to fight terrorist threats and keep Australians from fighting in these conflicts overseas. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is a bi-partisan committee designed to oversee such legislation, and has recommended the Government pull back on parts of the Bill.

The 37 recommendations serve to significantly water down the Bill, and include provisos that would see the collection of photographic and biometric information on Australians and foreigners travelling in and out of Australia tightly monitored by the Privacy Commissioner.

Three recommendations in particular mean that Customs and Border Protection would be made to submit their data collection plans to the oversight of the Australian Privacy Commissioner, while having plans for additional collection of biometric data halted under the Foreign Fighters Bill.

From the report:

Recommendation 34
The Committee recommends that the Privacy Commissioner undertake a Privacy Assessment of the data collected and stored by the Department of Immigration and Border Protections and Customs, and report to the Attorney-General by 30 June 2015, with specific regard to the collection, storage, sharing and use of that data by the government agencies within the remit of the Commissioner’s jurisdiction.

Recommendation 35
The Committee recommends that the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 be amended to remove the ability to prescribe the collection of additional categories of biometric information within the Migration Regulations.

Should this information be required by relevant agencies to ensure Australia’s border security, further legislative amendments should be proposed by the Government and referred to this Committee with appropriate time for inquiry and report.

Recommendation 36
The Committee recommends the Government consult with the Privacy Commissioner and conduct a privacy impact statement prior to proposing any future legislative amendments which would authorise the collection of additional biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans.

Opposition dissent surrounding the Bill is growing, especially in relation to storage of biometric data by Customs.

A vote on the Bill is due in the Parliament before the end of the month.

Would you feel safer if everyone was photographed and fingerprinted on the way in and out of Australia?

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