Debate Continues Over Biometric Border Security in Australia

Debate Continues Over Biometric Border Security in AustraliaIn considering a bill that would expand authorities’ powers to collect biometric data, the Law Council of Australia is asking that the country’s Privacy Commissioner be allowed to assess it before it can be passed, according to a Computerworld article by Rohan Pearce.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015 is intended to broaden the discretionary power of border control officials in determining when to collect biometric data and from whom. For example, it would allow such officials to collect the biometric data of a disabled person who is unable to give their consent, and without the approval of their guardian. This has given rise to concerns that it goes too far in violating the privacy rights of travelers; Olga Ganopolsky, the Law Council’s Privacy Law Committee chair, said that the legislation “will expand the powers of collection for personal information including sensitive biometric data for both Australian citizens and non-citizens.”

The Law Council also expressed concern about the security of such data, with Ganopolsky arguing that “the highly personal nature of such data should not be underestimated and its collection, use, retention and disclosure ought to be tightly controlled.” Moreover, the Law Council called for greater security measures to be put in place to ensure that both individuals and the Privacy Commissioner be notified if and when there is a security breach against the data.

These are serious concerns, and indeed Australia has proven a lively venue for debate about the privacy and civil rights issues touched upon by the growing presence of biometric technology. When expansions of biometric security into the country’s border control system were first proposed last fall, they immediately touched off a heated discussion, which is clearly continuing to play out through legal channels now.

The Law Society expressed misgivings last month about a proposed expansion of police powers with respect to collecting fingerprints from citizens. While these concerns are not particular to Australia, the country’s efforts to grapple with them provide a clear illustration of some of the major issues at hand when it comes to the integration of biometrics into state security.

April 21, 2015 – by Alex Perala