COAG Agree On National Facial Biometric Matching Capability, Plans For Supporting Legislation

Friday 6 October 2017 @ 9.54 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Council of Australian Governments yesterday signed off on an Intergovernmental Agreement on Identity Matching Services which will establish a “National Facial Biometric Matching Capability”.  State governments will now hand over all their drivers’ license photographs to boost currently existing facial recognition technology which already includes Australian passport photos.  The plan was supported by all state leaders, but some concerns have been expressed by privacy groups.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull told The Sydney Morning Herald:

“This is not accessing information, photo ID information that is not currently available. We are talking about bringing together essentially federal government photo IDs, passports, visas and so forth, together with driver's licences…

These are all available to law enforcement agencies now and have been for many years, if not for generations. What we have not been doing is accessing them in a modern 21st century way. It shouldn't take seven days to be able to verify someone's identity or seek to match a photograph of somebody that is a person of interest. It should be able to be done seamlessly in real time.”

States to Enact Legislation

According to the Intergovernmental Agreement on Identity Matching Services (“the Agreement”),  State governments have agreed to “use their best endeavours” to introduce legislation to enable the exchange of identity information necessary to establish the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability. 

Clause 8.5 of the Agreement says:

“The legislation preserved or enacted in state and territory jurisdictions should:

(a) authorise states and territories to provide facial images and related identity information to the host of the National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution

(b) not prohibit the host of the National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution from:

i. collecting facial images and related identity information

ii. using information to enrol facial images into biometric templates and perform biometric facial matching, and

iii. disclosing facial images and related identity information to Entities participating in the Face Matching Services.

(c) authorise, or at the very least not prohibit:

i. the exchange of facial images, information and match results via the interoperability Hub

ii. the collection of facial images or information from other Agencies via the interoperability Hub, and

iii. the disclosure of facial images or information to the interoperability Hub.”

Commonwealth Arrangements

Under the Agreement, the Commonwealth Government will also need to “ensure it has the necessary legislative authority to host and operate the system”.

Authority for funding for the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability was established by the Financial Framework (Supplementary Powers) Amendment (Attorney-General’s Portfolio Measures No. 2) Regulations 2017 (Cth), which was registered on the Federal Register of Legislation on 29 June 2017.  The Explanatory Statement for the Regulation says:

“New table item 240 establishes legislative authority for the Government to fund the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability (the Capability).

The Capability facilitates secure, automated and accountable sharing and matching of facial images and related information amongst relevant government agencies for identity security, national security and law enforcement purposes, while maintaining robust privacy safeguards.

The face matching services that will be supported by the Capability will use both biometric information (photographs) and biographic information on identity documents to assist in verifying a person’s identity, ascertaining the identity of an unknown person, or detecting cases where a person is using multiple fraudulent identities or multiple identity documents in the community.”


The Privacy Foundation’s chairman David Vaile told The Sydney Morning Herald the database was “unnecessary and disproportionate”, saying:

“The criminal face database will affect all Australians, even the most conscientious and law-abiding. Given the extremely low level of terrorism in Australia, it's likely to merely generate massive 'false positive' lists and flood our very effective police and security services with useless distraction.”

Digital Rights Watch chairman told the Australian Financial Review that the database was “a gross overreach into the privacy of everyday Australian citizens.”

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