Australian govt rejects warrant for face matching system
13 April 2018 15:24 GMT

Australia's government has said authorities need not use a warrant to perform searches on a new national face-matching service.

The Department of Home Affairs said this would bea "resource-intensive" process that could cause significant delays to matters of national security and potentially undermine law-enforcement investigations.

In a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Home Affairs said that although it is not clear how often government agencies will use the Face Identification Service (FIS), "it is likely that a requirement to obtain a warrant would effectively prevent government agencies from using the services, or obtaining the benefits of the services, in many cases".

The department believes the privacy benefits of requiring agencies to obtain a warrant would likely be "significantly outweighed" by the decreased ability of agencies to carry out their law-enforcement and national security functions.

"Obtaining a warrant is a resource-intensive process, both for the applicant agency and for the issuing authority hearing the application," Home Affairs wrote.

"The time involved in preparing, reviewing, and granting a warrant application to use services would significantly delay, and in some circumstances undermine, law-enforcement and national security investigations; impede operational activity, including the prevention of criminal acts; and divert resources from investigations."

The Australian government in February introduced two Bills into the House of Representatives that would allow for the creation of a system to match photos against identities of citizens stored in various federal and state agencies: The Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2018.

The first Bill authorises the Peter Dutton-led department to operate a central hub for communicating between agencies, while the second would allow for real-time crime fighting, according to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

The pair of Bills make good on an agreement reached at COAG in October to introduce a national system allowing for biometric matching.

In the submission to the joint committee reviewing the Bills, Home Affairs said it considers the privacy safeguards built in to the Identity-matching Services Bill, as well as those contained in the inter-governmental arrangement and administrative and policy arrangements supporting the services, as being "sufficient" in ensuring the services are used appropriately.