Australia to capture biometrics at the border under new law

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Australia's Parliament has passed a law that will make it possible to collect biometric data, from citizens and visitors alike, at the nation's borders.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015, an amendment to the Migration Act of 1958, is explained as an effort to “streamline seven existing personal identifier collection powers into a broad, discretionary power to collect one or more personal identifiers from non-citizens, and citizens at the border.”

Other justifications for the Bill are put forth in the explanatory memorandum, as follows:

Checks of personal identifiers against existing immigration data holdings, and the data holdings of Australian law enforcement agencies and Five Country Conference partner countries have revealed undisclosed adverse immigration and criminal history information of non-citizens, and discrepancies in the biographic information provided by non-citizens.

The progressive expansion of the department’s biometric programme has resulted in some non-citizens providing personal identifiers, but not others, depending on the timing of their visa application or arrival in Australia. As a result, higher integrity biometric-based identity, security, law enforcement and immigration history checks have been conducted on only some non-citizens.

Recent border and terrorism-related events in Australia and worldwide illustrate the need for measures to strengthen community protection outcomes. In addition, as the department reduces the degree of physical contact with applicants for visas, it is increasingly important that identity and other checks are conducted against biometric data holdings to detect individuals of concern. In particular, the capability to conduct identity checks against existing data holdings will further contribute to the protection of children who have been, or who are at risk of being, trafficked.

The Bill itself doesn't specify what biometric data will be captured at the border, but the explanatory memorandum mentions “facial image, fingerprints and iris” and includes provisions to ensure biometrics are captured in a process that is not “cruel, inhuman or degrading” and takes place “with humanity and with respect for human dignity.”

A new power in the bill will make it possible to collect biometric data “from minors and incapable persons... without the need to obtain the consent, or require the presence of, a parent, guardian or independent person during the collection of personal identifiers.”

The law's being sold as a security measure and, as such, will go down well with much of the Australian community because immigration – especially of refugees – is a hot political issue. A measure that makes it easier to detect criminals entering Australia is therefore likely to be popular with a majority of voters.

Australia is far from alone in capturing biometric data at the border: your correspondent has been fingerprinted in Taiwan and the USA in the last year alone. ®




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