Australia to spend $18.5M on facial biometrics

The Abbott government is spending $18.5 million to roll out a national facial biometric capability to support efforts to catch terrorists and other criminals stealing or attempting to hide their identities to commit offences. The funding is part of the $1.3 billion invested over the last 12 months to combat terrorism. From mid-2016, law enforcement and government agencies will share and match photographs on identity documents to strengthen identity-checking processes while maintaining strong privacy safeguards.

The capability will initially provide a one-to-one image-based verification service to Commonwealth agencies, with other agencies expected to join over time. This service will enable law enforcement and security agencies to match one photograph of an unknown person against many photographs contained in government records to help establish their identity.

The government said this process will expedite putting a name to the face of terror suspects, murderers, and armed robbers, and will also help to detect fraud cases involving criminals using multiple identities. The capability will not be a centralised biometric database and will not retain or store any images that are shared between agencies, the government said.

It adds to the government’s recently introduced Document Verification Service, which enables organisations to electronically match identifying information or credentials – but not photographs – on certain government-issued identity documents. Identity crime is one of the most common and costly crimes affecting up to 900,000 Australians each year, and now surpasses assault, motor vehicle theft and robbery, the government said.

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