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Facial recognition
& biometric tech

Overview

Biometric technologies can identify people by reference to their face, eyes, genetic or DNA material, and myriad other physical features. They can be used to verify an individual’s identity or to identify someone from a larger group. There are also attempts to use the technology to gain other insights about people, such as their mood or personality. 

There is strong community concern about some forms of facial recognition technology, which can have high error rates, especially for certain racial and other groups. Where these biometric technologies are used in high-stakes decision making, such as policing, errors in identification can increase human rights risks. As the use of biometric technologies increases, there is also concern about privacy impacts including through harmful surveillance. 

The Commission recommends law reform to provide stronger, clearer and more targeted human rights protections regarding the development and use of biometric technologies, including facial recognition. Until these protections are in place, the Commission recommends a moratorium on the use of biometric technologies, including facial recognition, in high-risk areas of decision making.

fingerprint scan

Key messages

  • Biometric technology can identify people by their face, eyes, DNA and other physical features.
  • Stronger privacy law is needed to protect Australians from harms associated with facial recognition.

Recommendations

  • Recommendation 19: Facial recognition

    Australia’s federal, state and territory governments should introduce legislation that regulates the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology. The legislation should:

    1. expressly protect human rights
    2. apply to the use of this technology in decision making that has a legal, or similarly significant, effect for individuals, or where there is a high risk to human rights, such as in policing and law enforcement
    3. be developed through in-depth consultation with the community, industry and expert bodies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
  • Recommendation 20: Facial recognition

    Until the legislation recommended in Recommendation 19 comes into effect, Australia’s federal, state and territory governments should introduce a moratorium on the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology in decision making that has a legal, or similarly significant, effect for individuals, or where there is a high risk to human rights, such as in policing and law enforcement.

  • Recommendation 21: Privacy

    The Australian Government should introduce a statutory cause of action for serious invasion of privacy.