Government biometrics bill meeting resistance

The Coalition’s ambitions to give immigration authorities more power to collect more biometric data on citizens at international ports has been met with resistance in parliament.

The Coalition introduced the bill for the new laws to parliament in March after a parliamentary committee rebuffed its efforts to include them within its counter terrorism bill in 2014.

If passed, the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015 would expand the types of biometric identifiers that customs authorities can collect and the circumstances and places in which they can gather them.

However, both Labor and Greens have expressed strong concerns about the new in the Senate and are seeking to have it amended.

In particular, the Greens party wants any further consideration of the bill to be delayed until the government releases findings of a privacy impact assessment for the new laws.

The department of immigration conducted the impact assessment but the government is yet to make its findings public.

The Coalition wrote in its memorandum for the bill that it was seeking to streamline existing biometric collection powers into a “broad, discretionary powers to collect one or more personal identifiers from non-citizens, and citizens at the border”.

If granted these powers, customs authorities would be able to collect biometric identifiers from minors without the consent of a parent or guardian and give the immigration minister the power to authorise collection of new types of identifiers, including iris scans, without the need for new legislation.

However, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam told parliament on Wednesday that the bill was another example of the government expanding its power without giving adequate protection to citizens.

“Regrettably, in the absence of (privacy assessment) that is being withheld from this parliament, we have to conclude that what we see here tonight is another one of those grabs for power.

“The key concerns relate to the security of the data that is collected, and that goes to ensuring that it will not be hacked, leaked and distributed. Given the extraordinary intimacy of this detail that is being collected on people—not just suspects, but everybody transiting our borders—and if this material were to fall into the wrong hands, it could lead to one very obvious scenario: identity theft. If you have this information on an individual, you can assume their identity in almost trivial ways and wreck people's lives,” Senator Ludlam said.

Labor Senator Carol Brown said that opposition remained “concerned that there is no requirement for individuals to be notified if there is a serious privacy breach in relation to their identifying information” pointing to an incident in February last year when immigration exposed personal details of 10,000 asylum seekers on its website.

The Senate was yet to vote on the Greens' proposed amendment.

Read more: Australian government snooping continues to grow, A-G figures confirm

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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