Major privacy concerns around national facial recognition database

CC Licensed image from Flickr User Jay Phagan

Digital Rights Watch have welcomed a move by the Victorian Government to control federal agency access to driver’s license photographs uploaded to the national facial recognition database.

“There is a severe lack of strong oversight mechanisms and general enforcement for human rights and civil liberties in this country, which results in the public being understandably wary about giving government more powers in the first place,” said Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton.

“It is welcoming to see the Victorian Government attempt to place restrictions on the use of driver’s license photos, citing privacy and access concerns over the draft framework currently before federal Parliament.”

“As the Australian Privacy Foundation and FutureWise have already pointed out in their submission in relation to the national Identity-matching Services Bill, there are serious human rights and regulatory shortcomings in Australia’s biometric information collection and the proposed sharing regime.”

“The public needs to be able to trust that governments can adequately house and protect this information. We have seen breaches from agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection or the Australian Bureau of Statistics, to name just a few. This should make it very clear that this government is ill-equipped to properly protect citizen’s data.”

“There is no empirical evidence that supports the assertion that blanket surveillance or mass data retention is effective at preventing serious crime and terrorism either domestically or internationally – in fact if anything, these approaches almost always erode rights, risk security and diminish freedoms,” said Mr Singleton Norton.

“Of course we want to ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the tools to do their job – namely, protecting the populace from harm. But that cannot and should not be at the expense of individual people’s rights.”

“The entire focus on surveillance operations in this country is fundamentally broken, and we need a complete paradigm shift towards a rights-based approach. Hopefully, this move by Victoria to control access to the national facial recognition database is the start of that shift,” he concluded.