Facial recognition could be used to replace swipe cards on public transport, the New South Wales government has suggested, but the opposition and digital rights groups say it would pose a risk to privacy. The transport minister, Andrew Constance, said on Tuesday he wanted commuters "in the not too distant future" to be able to board trains using only their faces, with no need for Opal cards, barriers or turnstiles. "I'm about to outline some concepts which may seem pretty crazy and far-fetched," he told the Sydney Institute on Tuesday. "But look at it this way – who would have thought in 1970 that you'd be able to use a handheld device to have a video conversation with someone on the other side of the world? "I want people to not think about their travel.
American IT services provider Unisys has picked up a pair of Australian government contracts. The first is to design and implement the Enterprise Biometric Identification Services (EBIS) system that will be used by the Department of Home Affairs to conduct biometric matching on people entering Australia. "The new EBIS system will be used by the department to match face images and fingerprints of people wishing to travel to Australia, including visa and citizenship applicants, against biometric watch lists to identify people of security, law enforcement, or immigration interest, while simultaneously facilitating the processing of legitimate travellers," Unisys said in a statement. The company said the system will be designed for the next decade. For its part, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs Alex Hawke said the system would "vastly improve" Australia's biometric storage and processing capabilities, and consolidate the biometrics collected through visa and detention programs with data collected at SmartGates.
The Department of Home Affairs has labelled a suggested warrant requirement to access Australia's facial recognition database as a "resource-intensive" process that could cause significant delays to matters of national security and potentially undermine law-enforcement investigations. In a submission [PDF] 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."