Committee orders complete redrafting of Biometric Bills as privacy safeguards are deemed inadequate

Bipartisan agreement that the Bills are not sufficient in their current forms.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has declined to recommend the passage of Australia's pair of Biometric Bills, with a bipartisan agreement being reached that the privacy safeguards are not sufficient in their current form.

The committee has instead requested the Identity-matching Services Bill 2019 be completely redrafted.

The purpose of the Bill is to facilitate a secure, automated, and accountable exchange of identity information between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments.

The Bill authorises the Department of Home Affairs to create and maintain a facility such as an interoperability hub, which would operate as a router to the participating bodies, allowing them to access identity-matching -- biometric -- services.

See also: Why Australia is quickly developing a technology-based human rights problem (TechRepublic)

Addressing the House of Representatives on Thursday, Committee Chair Andrew Hastie said throughout its review, the committee heard concerns over the need to ensure that appropriate governance and accountability were in place, and protection of the individual's right to privacy was forefront.

"The committee acknowledges these concerns and believes that while the Bill's explanatory memorandum sets out governance arrangements, such as existing and contemplated agreements and access policies, they are not adequately set out in the current Bill," he said.

"In the committee's view, robust safeguards and appropriate oversight mechanisms should be explained clearly in the legislation."

He said that although the committee expresses broad support for the objectives of the Bill, it agrees with many of the submissions it received that the Bill as it stands does not adequately incorporate enough detail.

"It is for that reason that the committee recommends that the Identity Matching Services Bill 2019 be redrafted," Hastie said.

The committee recommends the Bill be redrafted in its entirety, according to the following principles: The regime should be built around privacy, transparency, and subject to robust safeguards; the regime should be subject to parliamentary oversight and reasonable proportionate and transparent functionality; the regime should be one that requires annual reporting on the use of the identity-matching services; and the primary legislation should specifically require that there is a participation agreement that sets out the obligations of all parties participating in the identity-matching services in detail.

Additionally, the committee recommends that the redrafted Bill be referred to the committee for further review.

The committee also simultaneously examined the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2019. This Bill proposes amendments which would authorise the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to disclose information in order to participate in identity-matching services and provide for computerised decision-making in confirming identity.

This Bill would also support the objectives of the Identity-Matching Bill by making Australian travel document data available to identity-matching services via the Home Affairs-controlled interoperability hub.

Hastie said the committee heard concerns during its probe regarding the use of automated decision-making, in particular where unfavourable outcomes were made for the subject.

"Most felt that an element of human decision-making, should be kept and then avenues for review of decisions should be implicitly incorporated into the Bill," he explained.

"The committee agrees and recommends that the Bill should be amended to ensure that automated decision-making, can only be used for decisions that produce favourable or neutral outcomes for the subject, and that automated decisions should not negatively affect outcomes."

Hastie said the committee recognises that redrafting of the Identity Matching Bill may have consequential effects to the Passports Bill should, and as a result, the committee has asked it also be referred to the committee for further review.

Meanwhile, ALP committee member Mark Dreyfus said that if the government has no intention of using the Bills for mass surveillance purposes that it should have no problem with accepting the committee's recommendations.


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