The Australian government is moving ahead with facial recognition technology

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The Australian government is working on facial verification and facial recognition technologies for verifiable identification which will be able to assist law enforcement and intelligence services.

The federal Department of Home Affairs top cyber security official, Joe Franzi, who spoke at the CeBIT Australia conference in Sydney last week, said that at present there were over 20 state and federal government agencies managing around fifty million identity documents in Australia. There is little or no data sharing between these various agencies.

When Australians are asked to prove their identity (for instance when signing up for a new mobile phone contract) they generally need to show several forms of ID such as a driver’s licence, Medicare card or a passport. Most identity verification is text based with little or no photographic or biometric information.

An agreement between the state and federal governments was reached in October 2017 to allow agencies in all jurisdictions to use new face matching services to access passport, visa, citizenship, and driver licence images. A central exchange will facilitate data sharing between agencies on a query and response basis without storing any personal information. Data contributed by the states and territories will remain under their control.

Franzi suggested that this system could eventually be made available to key private sector firms such as telecom companies and financial institutions, allowing them a more reliable and smoother way of confirming someone’s identity.

This is separate to the GovPass ID system being worked on by the federal government. Govpass is aimed at avoiding the need for various logons and passwords to access government sites. The idea is that citizens would only need to prove their ID once and the resulting Govpass could then be used for all government services.

A further variation of the facial verification system is facial identification. This is a one-to-many image based identification service that can match a photo of an unknown person against multiple government records to help establish their identity. Franzi said that this would be strictly monitored and only available to law enforcement and intelligence officers.

The Department of Home Affairs assures us that — unlike what we are seeing in China for instance — “it will not be used for minor offences such as littering or parking infringements.”

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