Many Australians have experienced that sinking feeling upon finding their credit card has been skimmed, scrambling to alert their bank while a stranger makes off with their hard earned cash. This can be even worse in cases of identity fraud, with criminals even taking out credit cards in other people’s names or using forged documents with their details. Australia’s newest national security weapon is designed to combat this threat, with an $18.5 million investment called the ‘National Facial Biometric Matching Capability’ to be operational from mid next year.
Identity crime is one of Australia’s most prevalent types of crime, according to a 2014 study. These findings have resulted in $18.5 million of a $1.3 billion investment in national security going towards the development of a sophisticated facial recognition system. According to the report, between 750,000 and 900,000 Australians have been a victim of identity crime, with many experiencing an average financial loss of more than $4000 as a result. It is also suspected that even more cases of identity crime go unreported, meaning the numbers could easily be far higher.
Fraudulent documents are apparently worryingly simple to get your hands on, if you know where to look. An investigation by the Australian Federal Police found ‘black markets’ were selling fake IDs ranging from $80 for a Medicare card right up to $30,000 for a legitimately issued passport. The most difficult form of identity crime to catch is reported to be the use of fraudulent documents that feature the criminal’s photo alongside another person’s details. With this new system, the fraudulent photos could quickly be compared with other photo identification under the victim’s name — such as their driver’s license — to ensure that the person in the photo is the right one.
With over 100 million facial identification photos stored by the government agencies that produce identity documents, these new biometrics capabilities could become a powerful tool for national law enforcement and security agencies. Aside from tackling issues of identity crime, this system can also be used to expedite putting a name to the face of terror suspects, murderers, and armed robbers.
If you’re starting to imagine the potential Orwellian consequences of this technology, don’t stress yourself too much about it. This development doesn’t give any government agencies any new powers, and must continue to operate in line with the existing Privacy Act. There will be no single database containing every picture of you ever taken — it simply means that if someone tries to book a flight to Syria using your name, there’s a far better chance they’ll be caught.