As part of US President Barack Obama's visit to Australia, a raft of new accords have been agreed upon to strengthen the national security of the two nations, including a memorandum that will see US law enforcement agencies score access to the names, aliases, DNA and fingerprint information of suspected criminals and terrorists.
Under the new memorandum of understanding (MOU)(PDF) signed in Canberra yesterday, US law enforcement agencies will have automatic access to fingerprint and DNA reference data from Australian law enforcement counterparts so long as a system exists to obtain such information.
If the DNA or fingerprint query returns a reference match, US agencies can access a target's personal information to verify the hit. Personal data would include information on a target's full name, aliases, sex, date and place of birth, nationality, passport number, other identity document numbers and fingerprint data beyond the reference information supplied in the initial hit.
US agencies won't have access to the data on a random whim, however. To access the information, agencies must be presented with the clear and present threat of criminal activity or terrorism.
According to the MOU, circumstances may include the possibility that the target or targets:
- (a) Will commit or has committed terrorist or terrorism related offences, or offences related to a terrorist group or association as those offences are defined under the supplying participant's laws; or
- (b) is undergoing or has undergone training to commit the offences referred to in in sub-paragraph 12.1(a) [above]; or
- (c) will commit or has committed a serious criminal offence or participates in an organised criminal group or association.
Personal data to be sent to law enforcement agencies will not, by default, include racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religious or other beliefs, trade union membership, health issues or details on the target's sex life. Law enforcement agencies can request this data if "they are particularly relevant to the purposes of this memorandum".
The MOU highlights the importance of data security in the transmission, storage and analysis of such information and has outlined in several sections how this data should be kept secret from prying eyes while respecting the legal rights of the host nation and the target when dealing with said data.
"The participants are to ensure that the necessary technical measures and organisational arrangements are utilised to protect personal data against accidental or unlawful destruction, accidental loss or unauthorised disclosure, alteration access or any unauthorised form of processing," the MOU reads in the section on data security.
Each party will also be required to keep a record of the transmission of data, which will include what was sent about whom and when. Data will be retained for a period of two years and the nation supplying the data can always query the status of how the information is being used.
The two signatories to the MOU, Brendan O'Connor, Federal Minister for Home Affairs, and Jeffrey Bleich, US Ambassador to Australia, said that the document is designed to ensure that law enforcement agencies can correctly identify and move on criminals and persons of interest hiding amongst legitimate tourists and businesspeople.
"Transnational criminals and terrorists are always trying to hide among legitimate tourists and business travellers. It is critical for us to find them and stop them without interfering with those travellers who build bonds between our people and strengthen commerce for both countries," Bleich said in a statement.
O'Connor added that "this important measure reinforces our shared values regarding the protection and privacy of the citizens of both countries while also denying safe haven to criminals".