Parliament should reject the Morrison Government's facial recognition scheme

Parliament should reject the Morrison Government's facial recognition scheme

The Morrison Government’s plans for a facial recognition identification and surveillance scheme are dangerously overbroad, lack safeguards and could dramatically alter the freedom of ordinary people going about their daily lives, the Human Rights Law Centre has warned Parliament’s intelligence and security committee in Canberra. 

The proposed law would create a massive “dragnet” database of photos of millions of ordinary Australians, including children, from passports, state and territory drivers’ licences and more. A wide range of government agencies, and even local councils and private companies would be allowed access for identity matching purposes.

Emily Howie, a Legal Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, said the scheme would fail to properly regulate facial recognition technology, placing extraordinary power in the hands of government departments without the necessary transparency or human rights safeguards.

“The facial recognition scheme effectively hands control of powerful new forms of surveillance to the Home Affairs department with virtual carte blanche to collect and use some of our most sensitive personal data. The laws are a recipe for disaster, they put at risk everyone’s privacy and contain no meaningful safeguards. This law is sloppy, it’s dangerous, and it has no place in a democracy ,” said Ms Howie.

The proposed law would allow local councils, transport authorities and even private companies, to access and search for matches across a database comprised of Australians’ personal information, including a biometric profile of their face. Access can be for minor reasons, including investigating such minor offences as a parking infringement.

“Frankly, these proposed laws are something you’d expect in an authoritarian state, they do not belong in a liberal democracy. Those attending a public meeting, a protest or a vigil should not have to reveal their identities to exercise their democratic right to engage with others and gather peacefully. Parliament must draw a line in the sand and reject this proposal,” said Ms Howie.

The proposed law was reintroduced by the Department of Home Affairs in July 2019, after identical laws lapsed when parliament was dissolved for the May 2019 election.

Ms Howie said the trend of governments adopting more intrusive surveillance systems was another reminder of the need to create an Australian Charter of Human Rights.

“The discussion about creating an Australian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms is long overdue. A Charter would benefit the whole community in a range of ways, including by helping to prevent unfair intrusions into people’s private lives, ” said Ms Howie.