Media release: 23 May 2020
On 22 May 2020 the Examiner (Launceston) newspaper quoted the Tasmanian Government as saying that “around 20” Tasmanians had complained about the transfer of their photo to a national facial recognition scheme.
In truth, at least 1245 Tasmanians have complained, more than 60 times the figure provided by government to the media.
Given the public interest in this specific issue the government should publicly correct the record.
On 13 February 2020 Tasmanian Director of Civil Liberties, Richard Griggs, lodged a group complaint on behalf of 1245 Tasmanians (attachment A). A response from government is yet to be received.
The fact is people are concerned about having their photo transferred, without their consent, to a facial recognition database in Canberra.
For some people, the concern is the simple fact they were not informed where their photographs were being sent. It is a matter of common courtesy.
For others, it is the lack of clarity about what the facial recognition database will be used for, leading to fears it is a step towards constant surveillance by the state.
Others again worry the national database will be a honey pot for hackers and criminals who are attracted to the large store of valuable personal information.
Finally, many are furious that the transfer of sensitive personal information by the Tasmanian Government occurred in the absence of any legislative or parliamentary approval at either a State or Commonwealth level.
These concerns deserve answers from government, not to be dismissed or downplayed.
A short history follows.
- In December 2019 it emerged that 410,000 Tasmanian drivers licence photos had been transferred to the national facial recognition scheme (Government Business Scrutiny hearings, 4 December 2019).
- The transfer in fact occurred one year earlier in December 2018 but had not been publicly advertised. The transfer occurred in a single data upload (Attachment B)
- The transfer occurred in the absence of Federal legislation to regulate the facial recognition scheme. The proposed legislation was criticised by Federal Parliament’s intelligence and security committee for not containing enough privacy protections or oversight mechanisms and was subsequently withdrawn for redrafting. It has not been re-tabled. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Intelligence_and_Security/Identity-Matching2019/Report
- The transfer also occurred in the absence of State legislation. The transfer was authorised by regulation, not legislation. This means it was not a matter debated in State Parliament by all 40 State MPs. Instead, the regulation was assessed in private by the six-member Subordinate Legislation Committee
- In relation to the level of scrutiny provided by the Subordinate Legislation Committee: no regulatory impact statement was prepared by the government for the Committee (see: https://megwebb.com.au/question-facial-recognition-data-collection-additional-questions/). No public comment was sought by the committee and no report is available on their deliberations on this issue.
- More recently, in 2020, the number of drivers licence photos that were transferred has been clarified as being 430,113, not 410,000 (Attachment B)
Further comment: Richard Griggs, Tasmanian Director of Civil Liberties Australia.
I only became aware of this occurring on Sunday May 24th when reading this article. I am very unhappy about this occurring without my permission and fully support our Tasmania Director in his efforts to see this remedied. I intend to strongly object to the relevant Minister.
As an astonished and angry Tasmanian I applaud Richard Griggs on demonstrating that far more than 20 apple isle residents are unhappy about their photo upload onto a National data base. However I am unclear on how he sought signatories to the group complaint? I was unaware of this initiative and I have not spoken to anyone in my “village” who knew of it.
A widely circulated opportunity to protest this abuse of our privacy (transfer without consent) could possibly increase the number of complainants a further sixty-fold. Indeed if a plebiscite were to be held it is possible that a majority would oppose compulsory inclusion on a National facial recognition database – just as the ill-fated Australia Card and Access Cards were unpopular on a civil liberties basis.