Australian Government’s national facial recognition regime needs to be overhauled

Australian Government’s national facial recognition regime needs to be overhauled

The Australian Government’s proposed new facial recognition surveillance scheme is dangerously broad and creates serious risks of undermining the rights of ordinary people going about their daily lives, the Human Rights Law Centre told the Parliamentary intelligence and security committee in Canberra. 

New laws proposed by the Department of Home Affairs would create a massive 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.

Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre said the scheme was badly flawed and needed an overhaul.

“This database will contain photos of the vast majority of Australians. Our Government is proposing letting not only police, but government departments, local councils, transport authorities and even private companies access the database. The safeguards around the scheme are woefully inadequate to protect against the risks of abuse,” said Mr de Kretser.

“The proposed threshold for access to the database is far too low. As currently drafted, the laws would allow government agencies to use the database to prevent or detect low level offences, even parking infringements.

“The use of facial recognition technology must be targeted to serious criminal offences. There must be safeguards to protect people participating in protest activities. There must be better transparency around the reliability of the technology. The proposed legislation must be amended to insert safeguards into the laws themselves, rather than leaving the rules to be worked out later by the Home Affairs Department and its Minister.

“Frankly, these proposed laws are a poor reflection on the state our democracy. They highlight the need for Parliament to step up and reject proposals like this. They highlight the need for stronger human rights protections for Australians in law through a Charter of Human Rights,” said Mr de Kretser.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s submission is available here.

For interviews please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519

Photo: Mirko Tobias Schäfer