Proposed laws paving the way for a facial recognition database in Australia have been abandoned after a parliamentary report found they required stronger protections for the privacy of citizens.
The report, released on October 24, outlined that while the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) agreed with the objectives of the bills, it supported concerns from submitters that protections for individual’s rights should be more explicitly incorporated.
If the bills had passed, images from Australian passports, drivers' licences and immigration cards would have been uploaded to a national system, called 'The Capability', which could determine the identity of unknown faces as well as verify identification to stop fraud.
In September 2019, Victoria became the first state to upload its database of drivers' licences to The Capability, despite the system not yet passing through Parliament.
Ahead of the 2019 Australian federal election, two bills that would pave the way for a nation-wide facial database were ditched. Since then they have been re-introduced and a parliamentary inquiry is looking into their viability. A public hearing into the bills that was scheduled for next week has been unexpectedly cancelled and it's not yet clear why. Here's what we know so far.
The PCJIS' chair, MP Andrew Hastie, said in a press release the bills are important but needed more work in regards to the privacy of Australians.
"The bills have strong intentions and will become important tools, particularly in fighting identity crime," Hastie said.
"Together, the bills aim to make identity-matching easier for prescribed entities whose responsibility it is to safeguard citizens and to reduce identity theft."
The bills will now been tabled and are expected to more explicitly incorporate principles relating to privacy, transparency, governance, and user obligations.
Vocal opponents of the bill, digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia, told Gizmodo Australia the report's findings were welcome news.
"We're pleased that the government is listening to civil society's concerns," EFA's chair, Lyndsey Jackson, told Gizmodo Australia.
"These issues aren't easy to navigate, and governments are trying to find solutions to complex problems, but it's important to listen to civil society, to take the time to understand the technology in detail, and to ensure that our rights in a liberal democracy are protected."
It's expected the bills' redrafting will take months and new bills won't be put forward until 2020.
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