National News

Welfare agency backs facial database

The government department responsible for Australia's welfare agency has thrown its support behind a national facial verification database.

The Department of Human Services, which oversees Centrelink and Medicare, said the scheme would help vulnerable customers like those facing domestic violence or impacted by natural disasters.

The department indicated its backing in a submission to an inquiry on two bills that would see government agencies share images of people for a national facial recognition database.

It said customers facing family or domestic violence might not be able to leave their homes with identifying documents, cutting them off from receiving government services.

"For some, these documents are withheld by the perpetrator of the violence," the department said.

It said a facial verification scheme would also help people experiencing homelessness.

People who saw their identifying documents destroyed in natural disasters would also benefit.

According to the submission, the department currently uses the Department of Home Affairs' document verification service but had no way to match biometrics - facial characteristics - with the people accessing their services.

This meant it couldn't confirm whether someone presenting with a real identity document, like a driver's licence, had obtained it fraudulently.

The Digital Transformation Agency, the government agency responsible for improving digital services, also supported the bills.

It said a major barrier for people trying to access government services was proving their identity online.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has already expressed its "serious concerns" in a submission to the inquiry, fearing a national biometrics database would impinge on Australian's right to privacy, freedom of movement, the right to non-discrimination, and the right to a fair trial.

"The leading academic research makes clear that the technology, generally, remains unreliable," the commission said.

The Victorian government recently announced it would upload every Victorian driver's licence to a national database.

It said it was doing this to help prevent identity theft.

© AAP 2019