Facebook photos to be used by Australian law enforcement agencies for national surveillance database
The patch from the massive anti terrorism database was laid when Australian Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, announced last month that the government would be spending US$13.3 million to develop a database (The National Facial Biometric Matching Capability), which would store still images that law enforcement officers could use to track terrorists.
It had been believed that the images would come from official documents such as drivers’ licenses, passport photographs or images taken from security cameras. The government claims that the technology is necessary as a human face is unique, just like a person’s fingerprints.
“It keeps Australians safe by protecting their identity and it allows our law enforcement authorities to accurately and efficiently identify someone who might take their interest,” Keenan said in September, as cited by ABC.
Now with the confirmation of sources, it is apparent that the database will be able to lift photographs from social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram. Australian privacy advocates and civil rights groups have been critical of this move. The Greens’ senator, Scott Ludlam asked: “Is there any law that would prevent the system from ingesting [photographs] from publicly available sources like social media sites?”
Andrew Rice, assistant secretary of the attorney general’s office, replied: “It’s possible that still images out of these kinds of environments could be put into the system. That would be a choice for the users of the system,” the Guardian reported.
The legislation, which will not have to pass through parliament, is expected to come into force in 2016. Keenan says it looks to put a name to the faces of terror suspects, murders, and criminals who use multiple identities.
As of now it is unclear as to who will use the database or for what crimes. Privacy advocates say that people should at least be notified before their faces are scanned, which can take place from a distance without a person knowing.