Australian Government Wants To Scan Your Face Before You Watch Porn

australian facial recognition bill pornImage: Alex Ellinghausen

An Australian government department has shown interest in forcing pornography sites to verify a user's age, and it's willing to offer its facial recognition services to get it done.

The Department of Home Affairs has provided a submission to a parliamentary inquiry looking into how best to verify users' ages before they view pornography or engage in online gambling.

It's suggested its facial recognition service, which is yet to pass in parliament and was initially proposed for national security and fraud detection purposes, could help to make this a reality.

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Home Affairs has been developing its facial recognition service (named 'The Capability'), which it's hoping to legalise if the Identity-matching Services (IMS) Bill 2019 and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2019 are ever passed through parliament.

Just last week the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) tabled the bills, expressing that the committee believed protections for individual's rights should be more explicitly incorporated.

The bill propose two services — a Face Identification Service (FIS) and Face Verification Service (FVS). The first matches unknown faces against a database filled with identified facial data collected from passports, drivers' licences and other forms of photo ID. FVS, however, matches a provided photo, such as a driver's licence or ID card, against its system to confirm you are who you say you are.

It's this latter service that Home Affairs suggests could be applied to porn and gambling sites if age verification laws were to ever be tightened.

"This could assist in age verification, for example by preventing a minor from using their parent's driver licence to circumvent age verification controls," the Home Affairs' submission read.

"Whilst they are primarily designed to prevent identity crime, Home Affairs would support the increased use of the Document and Face Verification Services across the Australian economy to strengthen age verification processes."

Gizmodo Australia has reached out to Home Affairs to clarify how its proposed FVS service would work logistically. It's unclear how this system would prevent minors from using adult IDs to access these sites. There has been no comment on whether the likes of biometrics or device cameras would be utilised. It did confirm, however, that the facial recognition service would not attempt to estimate a person's age.

"The Face Verification Service works by matching a person's photo against one of their government records, which includes date of birth information. It does not use facial recognition to estimate a person’s age," a spokesperson from Home Affairs told us.

The age verification debate has been ongoing in the UK after laws were passed there promising to introduce a service to stop underage viewers from accessing web pages. After numerous delays, it was eventually quietly scrapped in October 2019 just weeks after Australian parliament opened a joint committee into the viability of it.

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