Budget 2018: DHA given AU$130m for 'identity management' platform

DHA will upgrade its identity management and visa processing IT systems using AU$130 million allocated in the Budget, and has also been given AU$60 million to develop a National Criminal Intelligence System.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has gained AU$130 million to upgrade its "identity management" and visa processing IT infrastructure under the Australian government's 2018-19 Budget, in an effort to detect and prevent threats from entering the nation.

"AU$130 million to upgrade the capacity and performance of the Department of Home Affairs' ICT infrastructure, enhance its analytics and threat management capabilities and establish a platform for the enterprise identity management system," the government's Budget documents said.

In a bid to tackle "serious and organised crime", the DHA superministry will also be given AU$59.1 million to develop a new National Criminal Intelligence System (NCIS).

The system "will provide law-enforcement and intelligence agencies with a national repository of criminal intelligence and information", the government said.

"The establishment of the Home Affairs Portfolio reflects the government's commitment to a stronger, safer, and secure Australia and is a direct response to the increasingly complex and challenging security environment," the Budget documents said.

"The government is strengthening Australia's security and intelligence agencies to address an increasingly complex security environment. Through establishing the Office of National Intelligence and providing funding for a Joint Capability Fund, the government will enhance cooperation between our domestic security and law enforcement agencies."

To update the systems and processes being used by border security and law enforcement agencies, the Australian government has also allocated AU$293.6 million under the Budget.

"In this Budget we are taking further action, directly investing AU$294 million to harden up security at our airports: AU$50 million to upgrade security infrastructure at 64 regional airports; AU$122 million to enhance screening capability for inbound air cargo and international mail; AU$122 million to increase police and border force presence and capability at nine major domestic and international airports," Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison said in his Budget speech.

"There is also additional investment to improve scrutiny of visa processing and passenger screening, and clearance of visitors and goods at our borders.

"And we are investing more than AU$160 million to help our police, criminal intelligence and domestic security agencies fight crime and prevent terrorism, including AU$68.6 million to disrupt, prevent, and investigate child exploitation and abuse."

According to the Budget documents, the AU$50.1 million allocation to regional airports will include upgrading to "new advanced screening technologies", while AU$122 million will provide upgraded equipment and again "advanced technology" for screening international mail and cargo.

The government has also committed AU$102 million to developing a "smarter" system for biosecurity risks, including a trial of new technologies for diagnostics; and AU$30 million for the Safer Communities Fund to deploy additional closed circuit television (CCTV).

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had in July last year made the decision to create the DHA, with all federal law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to report into it as of July 1, 2018.

This includes the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australian Federal Police (AFP), Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), and the office of transport security.

The Australian government in February then introduced the two Bills into the House of Representatives to enable the creation of a system to match photos against identities of citizens stored in federal and state agencies.

The Identity-matching Services Bill authorises Peter Dutton's DHA to operate a central hub for communicating between agencies, while the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill would allow for real-time crime fighting, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said at the time.

The Bills were introduced as a result of a COAG agreement in October to formulate a national system for biometric matching.

DHA has argued that a warrant process would be too "resource intensive" under the Bills, and last week announced that it has purchased a facial recognition algorithm to be used for the service but is exempt from revealing the vendor.

The identity-matching Bills are at "high risk" of violating Australia's human rights obligations, Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow told the Joint Intelligence and Security Committee last week.

"The Bills are unprecedented in impacting on Australians' privacy," he said.

"The problem with the Bills is some of the permitted purposes for sharing personal information is so broad that they could give especially law-enforcement and intelligence bodies almost unrestricted power to share personal data."

Protections have not been written into the Bills, he said, which could lead to the "mass surveillance" of Australians.

The Law Council of Australia added that the Interoperability Hub to be used under the draft laws may not be subject to the mandatory data breach notification laws that came into effect in February.

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