Human Services says access to identity-matching database would help stop fraud

Extending biometrics access to the Stuart Robert-led department would help it thwart fraud, and ensure welfare is being distributed to the right people, it has said.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has said access to Australia's identity-matching database would allow it to ensure the right people are getting the right assistance, as the department responsible for issuing welfare could use it to verify people's identities.

In its submission [PDF] to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) and its review of the Identity-Matching Services Bill 2019 and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-Matching Services) Bill 2019, DHS said passage would assist with the delivery of "efficient, seamless, contemporary, and trusted services for all Australians".

The Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert-led department said the Bill's key changes that would affect DHS are the expansion of Identity Matching Services (IMS) to non-law enforcement agencies to verify identity; and Facial Verification Services (FVS) to include state and territory issued credentials, such as drivers licences.

"The availability of the IMS as proposed under the Bill, and specifically the FVS, will make it easier and quicker for the department to verify the identity of its customers (particularly those who are vulnerable) and ensure they receive the right payment and service when they need it," DHS wrote.

According to the department responsible for issuing welfare through services such as Centrelink, which is currently facing a class action for its data-matching initiative, such services would also "modernise" the measures the department uses to thwart fraud, as it would enhance its capacity to confirm customer identity.

See also: Centrelink's new data-matching project targets Medicare fraud  

The department already uses the Department of Home Affairs' (DHA) Document Verification Service (DVS) to confirm the authenticity of identity documents.

While the DVS allows visual on identity documents such as passports, birth certificates, or drivers licences, DHS said it could not verify whether an individual that presented a real identity document had obtained that document fraudulently.

"This is because the DVS does not match the biometric elements on an identity document, namely a photo, against the person attempting to use it to claim a payment or service," the submission continued.

"Face biometric technology has the potential to replace this manual process and strengthen the accuracy of identity confirmation against photo identity documents, such as passports and drivers licences, and therefore reduce the risk of incorrect matching."

The pair of biometric Bills were introduced into federal government by the former Parliament in February last year.

Home Affairs is currently responsible for the operation of a central hub of a facial recognition system that will eventually link up identity-matching systems between government agencies in Australia. The Australia-wide initiative currently only allows state and territory law enforcement agencies to have access to the country's new face matching services to access passport, visa, citizenship, and driver licence images from other jurisdictions.

The Identity-Matching Services Bill, if passed, would authorise DHA to operate the central photo-matching hub for communicating between agencies, allowing for the collection, use, and disclosure of identification information to provide identity matching services that employ facial biometric matching.

The Australian Passports Amendment Bill, originally labelled by former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as being aimed at allowing real-time crime fighting, provides a legal basis for ensuring the minister is able to make Australian travel document data available.

The PJCIS in April asked the government to be more transparent on the biometric Bills, specifically asking it take into account its recommendations when developing any future strategies for biometric data and facial recognition systems.

The committee also called for the development of an appropriate regime to detect, audit, report on, respond to, and guard against events that may breach biometric data security. It also asked for the development of methods that assess the implications of any security breach, as well as how it would communicate the breach to both the general public and the technical, privacy, and security communities.

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