Turnbull licence proposal 'runs dangerously close to the line'

Justice Minister Michael Keenan addresses the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 30 May 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Justice Minister Michael Keenan addresses the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 30 May 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian addresses the media in Sydney, Wednesday, October 4, 2017. The Premier announced the NSW Government will introduce new laws to keep potential terrorists in jail. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian addresses the media in Sydney, Wednesday, October 4, 2017. The Premier announced the NSW Government will introduce new laws to keep potential terrorists in jail. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING

Privacy advocates have lashed a proposal by the Turnbull government that would see state and territory leaders hand over the identities of millions of Australian drivers in a bid to toughen national security laws.

NSW and Victoria became the first two states to give in-principle support for the use of the technology ahead of the Council of Australian Government meeting in Canberra on Thursday.

The backing of the country's two most populous states opens the door to changes that would allow authorities to identify any Australian with a driver's licence in seconds using facial recognition scanners in public spaces.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Wednesday the technology could soon be used in areas such a shopping malls, airports and other crowded areas.

"It is hard to see how this would comply with international law," said Adam Molnar, a lecturer in criminology at Deakin University.

"It is mass undifferentiated surveillance that can be used regardless of innocence and no participation in a criminal activity."

Mr Molnar, a member of the Australian privacy foundation, said the proposal did not allow for consent from people to hand over their biometric information when they were in public.

"There is no opt-out for this, so in a criminal justice context, this breaks down the conventional notion of a probable cause for stop and search powers," he said.

"There has been a long standing clause for law enforcement that they have to have a probable cause to conduct a search. This runs dangerously close if not over that line."

Mr Turnbull said he was "determined to keep Australians safe," after announcing a suite of other new national security proposals on Wednesday, including detaining terrorism suspects for 14 days without charge, and new laws that would make it an offence to possess "instructional terrorist material" and make terrorism hoaxes.

States give backing

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian??? became the first state premier to back the Prime Minister's national security push before leaving for Canberra on Thursday.

"We want to work with other states and the Commonwealth. If technology can support the great work we're doing... of course we'll support those initiatives," she said.

"Sometimes it does mean that all of us have to give up a little bit of our civil liberties."

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he was willing to hand over the licence details of millions of Victorians.

"In relation to sharing important information from VicRoads so you can get a better more accurate facial recognition system, we are prepared to do that," he said.

Up to 50 per cent of Australians are already on the federal government's facial recognition database through their passports, Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 90 per cent of NSW and Victorian residents have their driver's licence by their mid-30s, while between 70-80 per cent have them in their 20s. Driver's licence ownership falls off sharply after people hit 70.

It is understood real time monitoring of the CCTV in privately owned areas such as shopping centres and football matches would only be undertaken by high-ranking police officers matching the identity database in the event of a credible threat.

If police were looking for suspects after an event, only they would be able to use the identity scanner on the CCTV network.

Hacking threat

Mr Turnbull dismissed concerns that such a vast identity database would be vulnerable to hacking.

"The alternative is to not use data at all," he said. "You can't allow the risk of hacking to prevent you from doing everything you can to keep Australians safe."

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said law enforcement was still operating in the 1950s with its facial recognition methods.

"Currently when they need to identify people through their face it can take them over a week," he said. "We should be giving police the tools they need to be doing their job properly".

The youngest targets of Mr Turnbull's national security push, terrorism suspects as young as 14, would not be able to be recognised through the technology given they are ineligible for a driver's licence.

But they would be able to be interrogated for up to 14 days before being charged for terrorism offences under the government's proposal.

"It is deeply regrettable that we would have to deal with people as young as that for terrorism offences," Mr Keenan told the ABC.

"But unfortunately this is the situation we have found ourselves in.

"There will be extra safeguards put in place for young people, as [there] always is, but we won't allow those safeguards to prevent people from doing their jobs."

The COAG national security meeting will take place three days after 58 people were killed and almost 500 injured in the Las Vegas shooting massacre.

Since September 2014, there have been five terrorism attacks in Australia and 13 major operations have disrupted terrorism plots.

With James Robertson, Nino Bucci

This story Turnbull licence proposal 'runs dangerously close to the line' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.