Australia to get in your face with facial recognition system

The country's prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, asks states to let the federal government access citizens' drivers licenses for a national database.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
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Would you be comfortable with surveillance cameras in airports and shopping centres being able to identify you? 

That's what Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hopes will come to fruition. Turnbull asked the country's states Wednesday to give citizens' drivers licenses to the federal government, which will help create a national facial recognition system.

"We believe if we bring together drivers' licences, then we can start to build up a national system that will enable us then more quickly to identify people," he explained on ABC Radio, "particularly to be able to identify people that are suspected of, or involved in, terrorist activities."

This will be used in collaboration with the federal government's existing database of passport photos. "About half" the population has a passport photo in a federal government system, he said.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra later Wednesday, Turnbull said the facial recognition system would be used with CCTV cameras in shopping centres, airports, stadiums and more. However, he said the plan would streamline an existing process rather than collect new data, according to News Corp.

"We're talking about taking a driver's license and other photo ID's in the government domain and being able to access them swiftly and using automation to do so, rather than a clunky manual system," he said.

It comes ahead of Thursday's Council of Australian Government, a meeting between the prime minister as well as the country's state and territory leaders. Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews, the premieres of both New South Wales and Victoria, made statements in support of Turnbull's proposals at a media conference Wednesday.

Turnbull also proposed that states and territories allow for terror suspects to be detained for two weeks without charge, an increase from the week period that's standard in most states.

The facial recognition system has been criticised by some privacy and civil rights advocates. "This is a gross overreach into the privacy of everyday Australian citizens," said Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton. Norton alluded to several cybersecurity concerns, such an Australian Federal Police officer illegally accessing the metadata of a journalist earlier this year and last year's digital Census being rocked by DDoS attacks, as reasons Australians should be suspicious of the system.

Turnbull rejected this idea, saying on ABC Radio, "you can't allow the risk of hacking to prevent you from doing everything you can to keep Australians safe." 

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