Australian National Facial Biometric Matching Capability to maintain privacy safeguards

The Attorney-General's Department has agreed to 16 recommendations made in the preliminary assessment of the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability around upholding privacy.

A preliminary assessment of the federal government's intention to establish a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability (NFBMC) has indicated that the system will maintain strong privacy safeguards when it commences initial operation in mid-2016.

In the Attorney-General's Department's (AGD) preliminary Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) for the NFBMC [PDF], all 16 recommendations that were made by Information Integrity Solutions, which was commissioned by the AGD to independently carry out the assessment, were accepted in part or full.

Some of these recommendations included strengthening some security measures by developing templates for interagency data sharing agreements, complying with the Australian Privacy Principles, and limiting the amount of metadata that will be collected to include transaction number, requesting and receiving agency, and purpose and authorisation.

Additionally, the PIA supported the "hub and spoke" design of the system, which will mean agencies will be able to share images from their existing databases without creating a new centralised database.

Minister for Justice Michael Keenan said in releasing the preliminary PIA, the review also recommended the greater use of biometrics to address vulnerabilities in current name-based identity checking arrangements that can enable people to use multiple identities when dealing with government agencies.

He reiterated the purpose of the NFBMC will be to help government agencies combat identity crime, organised crime, and terrorism.

"It enables law enforcement and selected government agencies to share and match photographs on identity documents such as passports to strengthen identity-checking processes, while maintaining strong privacy safeguards," he said.

According to Keenan, the preliminary assessment is just the first of a series of PIAs that will be conducted through the design and implementation of the system.

In September, the Australian government announced it would be spending AU$18.5 million to establish the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability. The system is expected to initially provide one-to-one matching functionality to help establish the identity of unknown persons against photographs contained in government records.

The Attorney-General's Department has previously said the capability would replace the existing manual, ad hoc facial image sharing arrangements between agencies.

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 under the auspices of AusCheck will have first access to the system, the Attorney-General's Department revealed at the time.