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NEC Australia wins AU 52m CrimTrac biometric contract


Australia's peak law-enforcement technology agency CrimTrac has awarded NEC Australia a AU 52 million contract to replace the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) in 2017. Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter Terrorism Michael Keenan said the new platform will give law enforcement agencies access to not only fingerprints, but also palm prints and facial images. The NAFIS currently only provides police agencies with access to fingerprint data. Keenan said the new platform will allow police the ability to undertake facial recognition matching with approximately 12 million existing images that are currently held in police databases nationally. "The Biometric Identification System (BIS) will not only integrate with existing law enforcement systems, but advance as our nation's biometric capability advances," Keenan said in a statement.

Victorian government pushes back on in-classroom surveillance


The Australian government in August last year kicked off a trial that saw surveillance cameras placed in classrooms to monitor if students were in attendance. The now-completed trial took place in a few private schools in the state, and the funding was accounted for at a federal level. According to the Digital Rights Watch -- a charity aimed at educating on and upholding the digital rights of Australians -- the next phase of the trial was to roll out the program to state-run schools. The initiative would involve the placement of cameras within classrooms that scan the faces of students and then compare the images against photos kept on file. Any instances of missing students would then be reported.

Qantas passengers to trial facial recognition tech at Sydney Airport


Some passengers travelling internationally via Qantas will be trialling biometric technology at Sydney Airport, with the first stage using facial recognition for them to complete automated flight check-in and bag drop, gain access to the lounge, and board the plane itself. Additional steps proposed for future trials include mobile check-in and automated border processing, allowing passengers to use their face as their access identification. As the launch partner for the trial, Qantas worked with the airport "from the outset", with Qantas chief customer officer Vanessa Hudson noting the airline is focused on increasing the use of technology to drive innovation for customers. "There is an increasing need for airlines and airports to offer faster and more convenient airport experiences and we're excited to see what results the trial produces," she added. Sydney Airport said consent is actively sought from all passengers and the "strictest level of privacy" is adhered to on behalf of those participating in the trial.

NSW government commits AU$52.6m to national biometric initiative


Announced as part of the state's 2018-19 Budget on Tuesday, NSW will be contributing AU$52.6 million over four years to the rollout of the biometric capability across New South Wales, enabling access to new face matching technology for law enforcement. "This technology will increase the capability to identify suspects or victims of terrorist or other criminal activity, including identity crime," the Budget papers say. The Australia-wide initiative will allow 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 Face Verification Service (FVS) is a one-to-one image-based verification service that will match a person's photo against an image on one of their government records; while the Face Identification Service (FIS) is a one-to-many, image-based identification service that can match a photo of an unknown person against multiple government records to help establish their identity. The Australian government in February introduced two Bills into the House of Representatives that would allow for the creation of the system to match photos against identities of citizens stored in various federal and state agencies: The Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 (IMS Bill) and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2018.

Home Affairs denies mass surveillance capabilities of face-matching database


The Department of Home Affairs has told a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that the government's identity-matching capability could not be used for mass surveillance, as its technical specs simply would not allow for it. "The services enabled by the legislation are not intended to provide agencies with mass surveillance capabilities. Indeed, the technical design of the system could not facilitate this ... as it requires users to input a single still image at a time to conduct a query," Acting First Assistant Secretary at Home Affairs' Identity and Biometrics Division Andrew Rice told the committee on Friday, ahead of the departmental leadership change. "It can't be connected directly to a live CCTV feed. Even if the agencies attempted to circumvent this by conducting multiple queries in close succession, the way the service operates makes it implausible that agencies could do this to support real-time identification of multiple individuals within a crowd, for example."