Like the unchecked rollout of artificial intelligence and automation taking over our lives, facial recognition is coming to Australia, whether you want it to or not.
In the same week a parliamentary enquiry is examining the merits of Australia’s proposed facial recognition regime, Sydney Airport is “in the throes” of a project to use the technology to handle passenger pre-boarding and arrivals.
According to ITNews, airport planning project manager Lisa Airth calls it the “fast passenger processing project”.
Airth revealed the plan at the Biometric Institute conference in Sydney on Thursday and said an initial pilot of the end-to-end system will be conducted in the second half of this year.
While that sounds like a neat way to speed up queues, Airth went on to tell conference goers that the project was being built on the automation of the border clearance process by the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
“After all this was implemented we started to look at and understand how we start sharing the common information to all the other companies you come across as you actually move through the terminal,” Airth said.
Whoa, there. Just two days ago, the Human Rights Law Centre made a submission to the parliamentary enquiry into Australia’s proposed national facial recognition regime, specifically saying the country’s law system is nowhere near prepared to handle it responsibly.
For starters, the technology isn’t even reliable.
Just last month, British police were under pressure to explain how its new facial recognition technology falsely identified 2297 out of 2470 football fans as “persons of interest”.
Not reliable, and well open for what most people would consider abuse.
China, for example, is well on track to have one camera for every two of its 1.35 billion citizens in place by 2020. It’s using them to analyse students’ behaviour in classrooms, make sure workers don’t nod off, catch jaywalkers and build a “citizen rating” that can actually make it difficult for someone to get a loan.
Or, as it happens, even a first-class ticket on a train or airline.
Back here in Australia, halfway through an enquiry concerned with whether our government is even ready to handle the responsibility of a national facial recognition database, businesses are charging ahead.
“In our environment the Australian Border Force were already using it, so they’ve already been educated about it,” Airth told the conference.
Qantas will be the launch partner at Sydney Airport. There are plans for it to also use the technology, powered by Home Affairs’ preferred $22 million Vision-Box automated solution, for entry to its lounge areas.
As well as helping passengers validate their passport and check in at the international terminal, passengers’ facial features will allow them to check their baggage in.
But since both of these options can be just as quickly validated by simply handing over a boarding pass – and it’s a fair bet the boarding pass blip would be quicker than validating a facial scan – is there really a pressing need to give Qantas access to biometric data on every citizen who buys a ticket?
Well yes, because according to Airth, placing the cameras at security points will also “allow” passengers to be tracked as they move through the terminal.
She calls it “face on the move technology”. Your image, which forms a crucial part of your “biometric token” will even be updated every time you return to Australia.
Obviously, if you do no wrong, you have nothing to fear, apart from in terms of how much confidence you have in your biometric data being stored securely.
Remember, unlike passwords, which can be changed if lost or stolen, biometric data doesn’t change.
If someone steals your fingerprint or facial features, it’s game on for them – for the rest of your life.
But above all, it seems the only people comfortable with the expanded powers given by implementing a national facial recognition database is Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs department.
Privacy groups across the country agree Australia simply isn’t ready for the responsibility, yet by the end of the year, chances are you’ll be subjected to having your face watched at Sydney Airport’s international terminal. It won’t be a matter of choice.
“In other countries, there is serious debate about the police retaining the images of innocent people,” Human Rights Law Centre director of legal advocacy, Dr Aruna Sathanapally, told the parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
“Yet, here in Australia, our government is proposing letting not only police, but government departments, local councils, transport authorities and even private companies, access and search for matches across a database that will collate Australians’ personal information, linked to a biometric profile of their face.”
Airth says ultimately Sydney Airport wants to “make sure it is a solution that works for every single airline that we have”.