Victorian Driver Licences Will Be Uploaded to Australian Government’s Facial Recognition Database

September 17, 2019 Updated: September 17, 2019

The Victorian government has said that every resident’s driver’s licence will be uploaded into an Australian facial recognition database, as it vows that the details will be safe despite previous breaches.

The data upload is part of a test run of a national system to assist governments in law enforcement and counter-terrorism operations.

Victorian’s driver’s licence data will be put into the federal government’s National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution to make it easier for authorised government agencies to stamp out identity theft, terrorism, and those avoiding demerit points. Identify theft costs the economy $2.2 billion and impacts one of every four Australians each year.

The facial recognition database was agreed to at a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on Oct. 5, 2017 (PDF). Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denied suggestions that the roll-out of facial biometric matching with a national database were intended for “mass surveillance.”

“We believe if we bring together driver’s licences, then we can start to build up a national system that will enable us to more quickly identify people, particularly … people that are suspected of, or involved in, terrorist activities,” Turnbull said at the time, adding that the technology would be used not only in airports, but in shopping centres and places of interest.

In their current form, the draft federal legislation allows private organisations to access the database. The two bills relevant to the facial recognition network–the Identity-Matching Services Bill and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill–are still being reviewed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).

The driver’s licence data is limited to use by the Victoria Police and VicRoads at this stage, as the Victorian government waits for the federal government to provide assurances about the nature of the federal bill, including issues with “misuse of data or access breaches by users of the IMS itself.” The Department of Home Affairs has previously rejected requiring a warrant to access the database.

“It is very important for Victorian citizens to have confidence that their privacy is not going to be adversely impacted by these changes and at the moment, the Commonwealth legislation and the protocols are in place to guarantee that,” Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings told ABC radio on Tuesday.

Despite previous national breaches to data, Jennings says the community should have faith their private details are secure.

“In relation to where those failures have occurred, action has been taken to try to prevent them from occurring again,” he said.

A live demonstration uses artificial intelligence and facial recognition in dense crowd spatial-temporal technology at the Horizon Robotics exhibit at the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES 2019 in Las Vegas
A live demonstration uses artificial intelligence and facial recognition in dense crowd spatial-temporal technology at the Horizon Robotics exhibit at the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES 2019 in Las Vegas on Jan. 10, 2019. (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns said the practice is always fine until a breach occurs.

“If you look at the United States where this technology has been used by police for a considerable period of time, there are some problems which have emerged,” Barns told 3AW radio.

“One, these databases we are told are easy to hack. Two, there’s been on-selling of data by police forces in the United States. And third, it has led to profiling particular groups, but also incorrect recognition because the technology, at this point in time, can mean you get the wrong person,” he said.

“If it is hacked of course there are a few things that follow.

“Firstly it can be on-selling to other groups, criminal groups for example, your facial data recognition can be used to create fake documents, fake licences etc.”

The government says it allowed consideration of the data as the state’s system is “fairly inefficient” and flawed in relation to facial recognition and multiple IDs.

Jennings said sure-fire way of not being part of the system is not having a driver licence.

The federal government has already spent at least $21 million on the build of the network. State governments have also invested in the network.

By Christine McGinn. The Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.