The Federal government has announced that its border security portal is now online, triggering the alarm of privacy advocates who believe that poor data quality could lead to cases of mistaken identity.
The Federal Department of Immigration and Citizenship revealed yesterday that its new AU$2.5 million border security portal is now active across Australia's international airports and seaports.
"This will mean border inspectors can clear low-risk passengers quickly and allow for more careful assessment of people who may be of concern," Senator Chris Evans, Federal Minister for Immigration and Citizenship said in a statement.
"Previously, inspectors needed to check multiple systems and sources of information to gain a full picture of a passenger's circumstances — the new portal gathers information from several separate systems currently accessed by border security staff," he said.
The border security portal has been rolled out as part of the AU$496 million Systems for People project, an initiative which began in 2006 after the department under the Howard government mishandled the cases of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez, leading to their wrongful detention, which was blamed at the time on poor data management.
The portal itself has consolidated records from a number of systems into a single interface through which Immigration staff "will be able to view all relevant information, and linkages between different pieces of information from multiple systems about a client", according to Senator Evans.
In addition, the portal provides a direct electronic link between Immigration staff and various security agencies.
Roger Clarke, chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF), told ZDNet.com.au today that the portal's value "really does have to be doubted".
"This has been presented as an 'illegal immigrant' measure rather than a terrorism or national security one ... implying that it's about more than just people who previously breached visa conditions or have applied for a visa and been refused, and whose dealings should have been entirely with Immigration," he said.
"Data sources are highly varied in their reliability, and intelligence sources in particular are, by their nature, highly unreliable," said Clarke.
The APF chair believes that this combined with varying data quality issues such as precision and time-relevance "creates enormous scope for misunderstanding and error".
"The errors rebound on the individuals concerned, because officers at the border have substantial powers, and they're inadequately controlled," he said.
Executive director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, David Vaile, believes that an effort to bolster accountability and transparency at both DIAC and its partner security agencies "is necessary in the light of the predictable disasters the data quality issue creates".
"If they are not prepared to do this as a reasonable corollary of this free-for-all, the project is unsafe for citizens and should be put on hold pending further privacy impact analysis," he said.
DIAC expects the Systems for People Project to be complete by 2010.