The Australian government is mulling large-scale integration of biometrics into its security apparatus amid growing skepticism and unease about such an idea, writes the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Wroe.
The idea is to have Australia’s Immigration Department build a database of images of all Australian citizens that can be used in concert with facial recognition devices installed at automated passport gates throughout the country. It’s a counterterrorism measure, part of a new draft of legislation called the “foreign fighters” bill, which is currently being scrutinized by a parliamentary joint committee. The legislation could pave the way for further biometric security measures including fingerprint and iris scanning.
Wroe notes that there’s a growing backlash against such measures, and points to recent security breaches as having shaken the public’s trust in the government’s ability to protect citizens’ sensitive personal data. Earlier in the year, the Immigration Department suffered an embarrassing scandal in which almost 10,000 refugee claimants’ personal information was accidentally posted on the department’s website. More famously (or infamously, depending on who you ask), Edward Snowden hacked the Australian Signals Directorate, the state’s major security agency, and leaked information about Australian espionage in Indonesia.
With biometric data, the risk is heightened because “[y]ou can’t readily change your fingerprints or your face,” said Roger Clarke, chairman of the Australian Privacy Foundation. Expanding on that idea, an opposition MP pointed out, quite accurately, that iris recognition technology “is used for laptops and computer systems” and is “now being used on portable devices.”
It’s interesting that Australia is seeing such a backlash against such a measure even as similar biometric security applications are being implemented in countries like India, Singapore, and the United States with relatively little public debate. Whatever the reasons for such partisanship, it’s an interesting debate, and the full Sunday Morning Herald article is well worth a read.
October 20, 2014 – by Alex Perala