Budget 2017: AFP receives funding for biometrics, digital forensics

Under Tuesday's Federal Budget for 2017-18, the AFP is being given AU$321.4 million in part to hire experts and improve capabilities in digital forensics, biometrics, and covert online investigators.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is set to receive a funding boost under Tuesday's Federal Budget 2017-18, in part to hire biometrics experts and covert online investigators and to improve digital forensics capabilities.

The AFP will receive a AU$321.4 million funding boost in a four-year package, while the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service will also reportedly be given around AU$75 million each for similar purposes.

The AFP's funding boost will also go towards specialist response capabilities including additional police negotiators, tactical response officers, bomb response technicians, and canine resources specialising in drug, cash, and explosive detection; and covert physical and technical capabilities including physical surveillance teams, undercover operation members, and police technical teams.

Other forensics and intelligence capabilities to be bolstered under the funding in addition to the biometrics experts and digital forensics specialists include crime scene investigators, firearms and armoury specialists, forensic intelligence analysts, and operational intelligence professionals.

Around 100 additional intelligence experts are expected to be hired using the money, as well as more than 100 tactical response and covert surveillance operators, and almost 100 forensic specialists.

According to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the package is the biggest funding injection to be given to the AFP for over 10 years.

"Whether they are terrorists or drug traffickers or people smugglers ... [our enemies] are becoming more sophisticated and so our resources, our technologies, need to match them," Turnbull explained on Monday morning.

Justice Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter Terrorism Michael Keenan added that the AFP has been facing increasingly sophisticated threats, with the nature of crime changing in the digital age.

In the same vein, the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) is due to be replaced this year to add biometrics by Australian law-enforcement technology agency CrimTrac under a AU$52 million contract with NEC Australia announced last year.

The new Biometric Identification System (BIS) will involve not only fingerprints, but also palm prints and facial recognition.

"The BIS will not only integrate with existing law-enforcement systems, but advance as our nation's biometric capability advances," Keenan said in a statement at the time.

"This is vital in the current national security landscape, because it is essential to have robust and efficient cross-border information sharing to support the law enforcement agencies that protect our communities.

"It's also vital our authorities are one step ahead of the sophistication of organised criminal syndicates who are adopting new and advanced technologies to exploit Australians and increase the misery they peddle."

The Australian government had allocated AU$700,000 to CrimTrac as part of its 2015 Budget for the development of the facial recognition system.

The federal government also announced last year that it would be spending AU$18.5 million to establish the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability for image-sharing purposes by government and law-enforcement agencies.

The facial biometrics system is used to cross-check identities of unknown persons against photos contained within government records.

The Attorney-General's Department (AGD) had said that the capability was designed to replace manual facial image sharing arrangements between departments and agencies, with the AFP, ASIO, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Department of Defence, and the AGD under the auspices of AusCheck the first to gain access to the system.

Still images from licence plate cameras and CCTV can also be shared.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015 [PDF] was also introduced to Parliament over two years ago for the purpose of preventing domestic terrorist threats by allowing for the collection of biometric data including fingerprints and iris scans from people arriving and departing through the SmartGate systems being implemented across all Australian international airports.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is also working with biometrics, last year announcing that it had partnered with Nuance Communications to extend its voice biometrics authentication service to its mobile app.

The ATO introduced "voiceprint" access to its contact centre back in 2014 in replacement of usernames, passwords, and security questions in order to prove identity, with the system creating a digital representation of the physical characteristics, patterns, rhythm, and sound of an individual's voice.

The ATO claimed that voice biometrics offer a higher level of security than passwords, PINs, security questions, and physical tokens, such as identity cards.

Privacy concerns have been raised over the use of biometrics by government departments, with Keenan previously making assurances that biometrics systems would have "strong privacy safeguards", falling within the remit of the Privacy Act.

These privacy breach concerns are especially pertinent given the AFP last month came under fire for "mistakenly" accessing a journalist's call records without a warrant in breach of the data-retention legislation.

As a result of the breach, the AFP said it has tightened its internal practices and procedures, made "significant changes", and enhanced and raised the level of authorisation required to access data of this type, and those who can approve access to data of this type.

With AAP

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