Australia to launch national facial recognition database in 2016

facial recognition

Australia’s Attorney-General’s department has revealed that the government plans to deploy a national system for law enforcement agencies to share citizens’ facial images by mid-2016. The national facial recognition database will link faces recorded on passports, visas and driver’s licences, with officials saying it will help tackle organised crime.

In May, federal law enforcement departments revealed joint plans to support a shared facial recognition database.

In the National Organised Crime Response Plan for 2015-2018, the law enforcement agencies said the database will used both for civil identification purposes and for criminal investigations. This database will “improve the ability of law enforcement agencies to share and match facial images used on key proof of identity documents, such as passports, visas and drivers’ licenses. This will assist agencies to combat the increasingly sophisticated use of fraudulent identities by organised crime groups”.

Responding to questioning by Senate Estimates this week, the Attorney-General’s Department said the system will support one-to-one matching functionality:

“The technical architecture of the capability will adopt a hub-and-spoke model to facilitate ‘query and response’ matching requests between participating agencies,” the department said. “The capability will allow agencies with a lawful authority to collect and share existing holdings of facial images (via the Hub) to check the validity of images presented to them with facial image holdings of other agencies. … There are currently over 100 million facial images held by agencies that issue identity documents.”

“The capability is designed to replace existing manual, ad hoc facial image sharing arrangements between agencies, providing an efficient, secure, and accountable mechanism through which images can be shared and matched,” the department said.

Agencies that will have access include the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Defence, and the Attorney-General’s Department.

The Department said it is working with Austroads, the association of Australasian road transport and traffic agencies, to develop a business case for adding drivers’ licences into the system, and will attempt to reach agreement on a “preferred national approach” by the end of the year.

On 12 May, the government also allocated $550,000 in 2015-16 to CrimTrac, an agency which develops and maintains national information-sharing services for use between state, territory and federal law enforcement agencies, for the development of its Biometrics Identification Services system business case. That system will eventually replace CrimTrac’s automated fingerprint ID system.

Meanwhile, the South Australia police department also revealed in tender docs that it will spend 1.3 million on a facial recognition system that will scan images of suspected offenders against their existing databases.

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