Anthony Albanese Government under Scrutiny by Senate for Hundreds of Millions of Possible Illegal Identity Checks

November 1, 2023

Australia’s biometric ID verification is under scrutiny for lacking a legal framework. This implies that hundreds of millions of identity verifications may have been conducted illegally under the Australian Federal Government. The Albanese Government is advancing legislation through the House of Representatives to establish a legal framework for the service, operating for four years without legislative endorsement.

Government agencies and business entities, including credit card issuers, utility firms, and financial and even non-financial businesses employ identity verification solutions to combat fraudulent activities and prevent identity theft.

Legislative revival for ID checks

The identity verification system, crucial in combating fraud and identity theft, involves various sectors including government departments and businesses. A previous attempt to legislate this service was forsaken by the Morrison government in 2019 after a parliamentary joint committee called for a redraft due to inadequate privacy protections.

Despite the lack of legislation, the service continued to operate. The new laws have been passed by the House of Representatives and are now facing scrutiny in the Senate.

Operational Framework under Question

Witnesses at the Senate inquiry on Monday reportedly raised concerns that identification verification services, which link state and territory databases to businesses conducting ID checks, may have been functioning in the absence of a legal framework, potentially rendering them illegal.

The Document Verification Service saw significant usage in 2022, with 140 million instances of use across 2,700 organizations from both the public and private sectors. Additionally, government bodies carried out around 2.6 million verifications through the Facial Verification Service.

Why is the Government Facing Criticism?

The quick move to pass new laws has sparked skepticism questioning not only the legality of previous activities but also whether the government is prioritizing its own legal safeguards over the public’s data privacy rights.

Senior Human Rights Law Centre attorneys are taken aback by the government’s broad and unauthorized use of identity services along with a swift move to legislation with limited parliamentary review.  The officials from the attorney general’s department stressed the need for a legislative framework for legal identity verification.

A Shift in Approach

The law proposed by the former government was designed to permit facial recognition matching between driver’s licenses and other photographic identifications. Additionally, it would have given police the authority to scan an entire database of IDs to locate a person who is not already known to them.

The new legal framework has limited the use of expansive search capabilities by law enforcement bodies, with the specific aim of safeguarding the identities of undercover agents or witnesses in protection programs by purging their past identification details.

Nevertheless, the Law Council of Australia has raised alarms over unregulated facial recognition services like Clearview AI, which are not covered by the new bill.

The committee is scheduled to present its findings to the parliament by November 9.

Current circumstances dictate a pressing need for Identity Verification solutions. Various financial and non-financial sectors around the globe have taken steps to adopt identity verification for customers’ due diligence, access to utilities and political participation. Recently, the Sultanate of Oman conducted its first remote elections through biometric ID to provide remote capabilities.

As identity verification becomes crucial to business operations and citizens’ access to state services it is necessary to develop Digital Identity Management to ensure data security and prevent any breaches.