Expanding facial recognition database in Australia not justified, watchdog warns

Australians should be gravely concerned about moves to add millions of people to a facial recognition database because of perceived terror threats, according to a leading civil liberties body.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will urge state and territory leaders to hand over license photos of all drivers at a special national security summit in Canberra on Thursday.

The federal database could be used, for example, to conduct surveillance at airports, sports stadia, shopping malls and other public places.

But the Turnbull strategy has been sharply criticised by Stephen Blanks, president of NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL).

He accused the federal government of "whipping up fear" and questioned if the likelihood of terror threats in Australia justified a marked increase in state surveillance.

"This proposal has a grave danger to it," Blanks told nine.com.au.

He also claimed the move would undermine trust in government.

"It is quite alarming when information you have given to the government for one purpose … is then used for an entirely different purpose."

Government sources on Tuesday told 9NEWS that driver's license information was the "mother-load" it needed to build a powerful law enforcement tool.

On Wednesday, in front of media, Turnbull kept repeating "keeping Australia safe" was the relentless focus of any changes to legislation.

The prime minister talked about how facial recognition tools would help alert counter-terror agencies to incidents such as the recent alleged Etihad bomb plot at Sydney airport.


"The system was designed so that people who looked 50% or more similar to the wanted suspect were flagged as a possible match. This means that a vast number of 'possible matches' will be completely innocent people."

The technology also frequently misidentifies African-Americans, according to a recent US government hearing (The content we linked to is no longer available).

NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks questioned if there had been sufficient debate and community consultation about the issue.

Blanks said the media's focus on acts of terror taking place in other parts of the world made Australians feel unsafe in their own country.

"It's easy to whip up fear where we have media that gives big publicity to individual instances of terror but without the context of how much dangerous activity there really is in Australia.

"Totalitarian governments who want to abuse their position often find databases of this kind very useful to pursue unacceptable policies."

Last month, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller proclaimed crime rates in NSW were "at 20-year lows".

Blanks claimed it had probably never been a safer time to be an Australian.

He cautioned counter-terror laws, once passed, were rarely reversed.

"These proposals are going to be a permanent arrangement in the hands of good government and bad government," Blanks said.

It is unpopular and politically unacceptable to question if national security agencies are sufficiently empowered, Blanks added.

Article: Expanding facial recognition database in Australia not justified, watchdog warns

Source: 9 News