Australia to allow Facebook photos to be used in national surveillance database

Facebook photos to be used by Australian law enforcement agencies for national surveillance database

If you thought Facebook was just about sharing with your friends and near and dear ones you are in for a surprise. Facebook is also used by the law enforcement agencies to identify criminals, terrorists and other anti-social elements. However this was being done unofficially.
Australia will become the first country to use Facebook photos officially for law enforcement purpose. Photos from social media websites like Facebook could be used in an Australian counter-terrorism database. Senior officials from the attorney general’s office confirmed late on Tuesday that photos from social media could be used in the system, which is known as “the capability,” the Guardian reports.

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.


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