If the face fits, film it
THE march of technology is described as relentless. For older Australians trying to keep pace, it feels more like a sprint than a march. But put to the service of mankind, it is wondrous. We can use robotics for life-saving surgical procedures, build smart cars that can avoid collisions, find new energy solutions. And use facial recognition to identify terrorists.
Predictably, not everyone is enthralled at the prospect of the Australian Government storing our facial biometric information on a national database, as announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after a special COAG meeting this week.
Privacy advocates say we are surrendering our civil liberties with too much haste and not enough caution.
The Sunday Times believes we should proceed with caution, but proceed nevertheless. We favour the ‘no regrets’ approach articulated by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian after the COAG meeting.
“At the end of the day what matters most is public safety,” she said. “We don't want to look back tragically and say ‘what could we have done to prevent something from happening’.”
If people are worried about the myriad of commercial applications from such technology, it’s not just coming — it’s already here. Apple’s new iPhone 10 boasts facial recognition as an alternative to pass-codes and thumb prints. And at a KFC store in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou you can pay for your meal by simply smiling.
It comes down to personal choice whether people are happy for businesses to hold their biometric data. We tend to over-share as it is. Many young West Australians are happy to let nightclubs record their driver’s licence details and take their photo. How secure is that data?
Allowing Australian law enforcement agencies to record and match facial images at airports so that known or suspected terrorists can be instantly identified and thwarted is a no-brainer. It’s another smart instrument in the counter-terrorism toolbox. It will help in some situations, but not all.
“This is not accessing information, photo ID information that is not currently available,” Mr Turnbull pointed out. “We are talking about bringing together essentially Federal Government photo IDs, passports, visas and so forth, together with drivers’ licences . . .What we have not been doing is accessing them in a modern 21st century way. It shouldn’t take seven days to be able to verify someone’s identity or seek to match a photograph of somebody that is a person of interest. It should be able to be done seamlessly in real time.”
The move makes abundant sense. We accept there have to be ironclad safeguards to prevent misuse of information. And security must be impenetrable to keep out hackers.
Future governments might be tempted to expand the use of such surveillance. But they risk fury should they do so without the endorsement of parliament and the public’s knowledge. The Edward Snowden revelations caused enormous embarrassment to the US, with just cause. It’s perfectly reasonable, though, to use our 21st century smarts to stymie the barbarism of jihadists who want to recreate the dark ages. A negligible loss of privacy is a small price to pay. Responsibility for editorial comment is taken by the editor, Michael Beach, 50 Hasler Road, Osborne Park, WA 6017. Postal address: PO Box 1769, Osborne Park DC, WA 6916.