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Australian Government introduces legislation to enable sharing of facial images for identity matching

The Australian Government has introduced two new Bills, Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 and the  Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2018, into the parliament to allow the images held in government systems nationally for identity-matching services.

In October last year, Australian government leaders from the Commonwealth and the States and Territories agreed to establish a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability, signing an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on Identity Matching Services.

The identity matching services in the Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 include: Face Identification Service (FIS), FRAUS (Facial Recognition Analysis Utility Service), FVS (Face Verification Service), IDSS (Identity Data Sharing Service) and OPOLS (One Person One Licence Service).

Generally, identity-matching services involve requests for electronic comparison of identification information about an individual to identify the individual, verify the individual’s identity, check whether the individual has more than one State or Territory government identification document of a particular kind, or manage identification information about the individual in the National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution (NDLFRS).

The IGA noted that driver licences are currently the most commonly used photographic identity document in Australia and hence access to these images would be critical to maximising the benefits provided by the Face Matching Service. This will be done through the NDLFRS.

The FVS enables a facial image of an individual to be compared by an entity against a facial image held on a specific government record associated with that same individual. It involves a one-to-one search. This will allow Commonwealth, state and territory agencies, and potentially the private sector in the future, to verify the known or claimed identities of individuals by reference to facial images in government identity records, such as passport, visa, citizenship and driver licence images.

Before using the FVS, an entity must have either the consent of the individual associated with the facial image to be verified or another legislative basis or authority to collect and use the information to be sought via the FVS.

The FIS enables a facial image to be compared against multiple facial images (one-to-many search) held on a database of government records. It will allow authorised facial recognition specialists in law enforcement, national security and anti-corruption agencies to identify unknown persons or check if a person has multiple identities.

The OPOLS enables a narrowly focused check, on a constrained one-to-many basis, of facial images within the NDLFRS to identify whether a licence holder or applicant may hold another licence of the same type, in the same or different identity, in another jurisdiction.

The IDSS will allow for the secure sharing of biometric identity information in other circumstances. It is any service that involves a disclosure that is of identification information about an individual; and for the purpose of an identity or community protection activity.

The Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs may develop and operate the interoperability hub, which relays electronic communications between bodies and persons requesting and providing identity-matching services; and the NDLFRS, which includes a database of identification information from State and Territory authorities and may be used to provide identity-matching services.

For the purposes of State and Territory laws that limit disclosure of identification information by an authority of a State or Territory but have an exception for disclosure authorised by a Commonwealth law, this Part authorises such disclosure to the Department for inclusion of the information in the NDLFRS.

The Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2018 will amend the Australian Passports Act 2005 (Passports Act) to provide a legal basis for ensuring that Australian travel document data is available in an automated fashion for identity-matching services.

The element of human discretion in deciding whether to disclose the information in each case is being removed. According to the Bill, the expected future use of FVS by large client-service agencies would make human intervention infeasible.

Consistent with provisions in Commonwealth legislation for comparable client-service activities, the Bill will also incorporate scope for the Minister to automate other decisions under the Passports Act.

The objective is for low-risk decisions to be automatically taken by a computer within objective parameters. This includes decisions to collect personal information for processing passport applications using the FVS and decisions to issue passports to people whose biographical data and facial images exactly match information in previous passport applications.

According to the Bill, decisions made by a computer may be substituted if found to be incorrect, and that this does not limit the reviewability of decisions about Australian travel documents.

These two bills will allow law enforcement and national security agencies to act without delay to identify people in circumstances where their liberty and physical security, or the liberty and physical security of others, are under threat, and take time-critical action to prevent injury or loss of life.

The IGA commits parties to the agreement to preserve or introduce legislation as appropriate to the extent necessary to support the collection, use and disclosure of facial images and related identity information via the services. 

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