Immigration gets new powers to collect biometrics at ports

The federal government has passed new laws that will give immigration authorities increased power to collect biometric data on travellers at international ports.

Immigration and Border Protection Minister, Peter Dutton, today welcomed the new laws and said that they would increase Australia’s ability to detect terrorist and criminal activity.

“What this Bill will achieve is a balance between fast and non-intrusive identity checks for genuine travellers, including children, and preventing those who would seek to do harm from entering our community,” Mr Dutton said in a statement.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015 replaces seven existing collection powers under the Migration Act with a single power that expands the types of biometric identifiers that customs authorities can collect and the circumstances and places in which they can gather them.

A key aim of the bill appeared to be providing immigration authorities with the legal means to use handheld, fingerprint scanners linked to external law enforcement databases, according to a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) for the new laws tabled in parliament Monday evening.

The PIA prepared by the immigration department gave the bill a green light making only two minor administrative recommendations concerning the new laws.

“This PIA finds that while the privacy of individuals may be affected by the Bill, the expansion of the powers to collect personal identifiers is necessary and proportional to achieve the purpose of the Bill,” the department wrote.

The new laws give customs authorities the 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.

Both Labor and the Greens party had expressed concerns about the new laws.

During debate in the upper house, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, had sought to have consideration of the bill delayed until immigration released its PIA.

At the time, Senator Ludlam told CSO that he was deeply concerned that data could fall into the wrong hands if leaked or hacked into by cyber attackers.

“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 expressed similar concerns pointing to an incident in February last year when immigration inadvertently exposed personal details of 10,000 asylum seekers on its website.

In its PIA the immigration gave assurances that any information it gathered would only be stored on servers that complied with the Commonwealth’s Protective Security Policy Framework and Australian Government Information Security Management Guidelines.

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Tags immigrationbiometricsPeter DuttonGreens Senator Scott LudlamPrivacy Impact Assessment (PIA)biometric dataCSO Australiainternational portstravellersfederal government

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