The Federal Government will ask the states and territories to provide photos and personal information from drivers licences to build a national facial recognition scheme.
The push is part of the Government’s continually escalating War on Terror. It will be on the agenda of the ‘Special COAG on Counter Terrorism’ meeting, held in Canberra on 5 October.
Canberra is increasingly pressuring the states to do more to combat terrorism, which is increasingly the ‘law and order’ issue of the modern age. And generally speaking the states are keen to cooperate, so they can be seen to be taking the matter seriously.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flagged the use of drivers licence in an interview with ABC’s Sabra Lane on Wednesday morning (4 October).
“Drivers licence photographs are already used to identify people, and we have passport photos. About half the adult population has their photo in one Federal Government system or another.
“If we bring in drivers licences we will be able to build up a national system that will enable us to more quickly identify people who are suspected of terrorist activities.”
When asked by Lane if the national facial recognition system could be used in places like airports and shopping malls, Turnbull agreed. “Absolutely,” he said.
Lane then suggested that tech experts had said that such a system could be hacked, and that therefore someone’s biometric data could be forever compromised.
The Prime Minister said the alternative was not to use data at all. “There has to be a balance. The Government’s main aim is to keep Australia safe.”
The Opposition is on board. In a separate radio interview on ABC radio in Adelaide, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong, indicated bipartisan support.
“I’m a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Consistent with Labor’s bipartisan approach, we’ve taken a very collective approach to looking at these sorts of proposals.
“Labor is always prepared to look at what laws are needed to ensure that we keep Australians safe and we will consider these laws that the Prime Minister is flagging, very carefully, including what safeguards are required.”
The Greens and many civil libertarians are resisting the move.
“The wider use of facial recognition software will affect every Australian’s privacy,” said Greens Justice spokesperson Nick McKim.
“Labor and the Liberals have colluded to erode freedom and the rule of law in Australia for fifteen years, and tomorrow they should resist the Prime Minister’s national security machismo.”
“For too long we’ve watched as governments have deliberately set out to scare people to make it easier to weaken their rights. This latest expansion of state powers is one of the reasons why the Greens will move in the current term of Parliament to introduce, debate and vote on a Charter of Rights.”
“Our basic freedoms and liberties are too important to lose.”
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