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9 September 2015—New $18.5 million biometrics tool to put a face to crime

Minister for Justice

New $18.5 million biometrics tool to put a face to crime

9 September 2015

Terrorists and other criminals that steal, exploit or hide their identities to commit offences will soon be subject to Australia’s newest national security weapon – the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability.

Today I can announce that the Coalition Government – as part of the $1.3 billion invested in the last 12 months to support Australia’s efforts to combat terrorism – is spending $18.5 million to establish the capability.

From mid-next year law enforcement and government agencies will share and match photographs on identity documents to strengthen identity-checking processes, while maintaining strong privacy safeguards.

The new capability will initially provide one-to-one image-based verification service among Commonwealth agencies, with other agencies expected to join over time.

A one-to-many image-based identification service will follow to allow 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.

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 that use multiple identities.

The capability is being established with strong privacy safeguards, informed by independent privacy impact assessments.

This initiative does not involve new powers for the Commonwealth; it’s simply a mechanism to share existing information already held by jurisdictions.

The new capability will operate within the protections provided under the Privacy Act 1988, and agencies using the capability will need to have legislative authority to collect and use facial images.

The capability will not be a centralised biometric database and will not retain or store any images that are shared between agencies.

The Government is also working with the states and territories to explore the scope for their police and road agencies to participate in the new capability and looks forward to ongoing ministerial level commitment to this work at meetings of the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council and Transport and Infrastructure Council later this year.

The Coalition Government is committed to keeping Australians safe and identity crime remains one of the most common and costly crimes affecting somewhere between 750,000 and 900,000 Australians each year – now surpassing crime types including assault, motor vehicle theft and robbery.

This is one of the key findings of the Identity Crime and Misuse in Australia 2013-14 report, which I’m releasing today. The report draws on the findings of a survey of 5,000 Australians conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology which I am also releasing today.

The report by the Attorney-General’s Department and the AIC estimates that identity crime costs Australia around $2 billion per year, and supports findings from the Australian Crime Commission that identity crime is one of the key enablers of terrorism and organised crime.

The report reinforces the importance of organisations using the government’s recently-introduced Document Verification Service (DVS) to help prevent the use of fake identities.

The DVS already provides authorised organisations with a means to electronically match identifying information or credentials – but not photographs – on certain government-issued identity documents.

These checks are conducted in real time to inform decisions that rely upon the confirmation of a person’s identity. It provides a key tool for organisations that are seeking to prevent the enrolment or registration of customers, clients and even staff who may be using fraudulent identities.

Building on the DVS, the new capability will allow agencies to match a person’s photograph against an image on one of their government records. This will help prevent more insidious forms of identity fraud –where criminals create fake documents using their own photos, with personal information stolen from innocent victims. It will also assist victims more easily restore their compromised identities.

The Identity Crime and Misuse in Australia 2013-14 report and information on protecting your identity can be found at www.ag.gov.au/identitysecurity.

I strongly encourage all organisations with a need to verify identity documents to consider using the DVS. Information on how to access the system can be found at www.dvs.gov.au.