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Porn, public transport and other dubious justifications for using facial recognition software

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Via Yahoo Finance

It started with passports. Then it was your phone. Now governments in Australia want you to use facial verification to access government services, take public transport and even for your private viewing.

Last month the joint standing committee on intelligence and security told the government it needed to rethink its plans for a national facial verification database built off people’s passport and driver’s licence photos. It said there weren’t strong enough safeguards for citizens’ privacy and security built into the legislation.

Despite the concerns, Australian governments and agencies have come up with some creative reasons to justify the use of facial recognition and sell it to the public. Here are five proposed recently:

1. Watching porn

The federal parliament is investigating whether age verification for people trying to access pornographic websites in Australia is feasible. This comes after Britain decided against its version of age verification to access porn.

A number of submissions to the House of Representative committee floated a few suggestions on how it could be achieved, from credit card checks, to telecommunications companies keeping track, to the government managing an identity service.

Related: Committee led by Coalition rejects facial recognition database in surprise move

But the home affairs department went one step further and helpfully suggested its facial verification system could be a good option for age verification.

“This could assist in age verification, for example by preventing a minor from using their parent’s driver licence to circumvent age verification controls,” the department said.

2. Government rebates

The Victorian government introduced a solar rebate scheme in July which allows residents to get up to $2,225 back from the government for investing in solar panels on their rooftops. But there was a catch: the rebate website required participants to use their face to verify their identification via a phone app.

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The justification for the trial was that it was designed to replace the 100-point identity verification system, but according to reports the system had a lot of problems when it launched in July. Nearly half of all attempts to use it failed, and some people said they wouldn’t use it because of privacy concerns.

3. Two-factor authentication

The home affairs department has suggested facial verification could be used by telecommunications companies to prevent fraud in cases where a hacker signs up for a phone number using false identification, or SIM-jacks someone’s number by porting the number from one mobile provider to another and takes it over to access online accounts using SMS-based two-factor authentication.

But the federal government undermined the department on this when the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said last month that Australian telecommunications companies would implement their own two-factor authentication system when numbers are ported to ensure the person porting the number is the person who holds that number.

No faces required – beyond the standard driver’s licence check.

4. Taking public transport

New South Wales recently began allowing people to tap on and off with credit cards instead of Opal cards, but its transport minister, Andrew Constance, wants to go one step further. In the name of convenience, and what he called “frictionless transport payments”, he said people could opt to pay via facial verification.

“No more gate barriers – just a smooth journey … It’s all about making the journey easier and faster for people. I am confident we will also see frictionless transport payments in the not too distant future,” he said in July.

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Related: Plan for massive facial recognition database sparks privacy concerns

It is unclear how it would be opt-in if everyone’s faces are scanned when they go through barriers.

5. Identifying victims of domestic violence

The human services department told the committee that ultimately rejected the facial verification legislation that it was “particularly interested” in using the system to verify the identity of vulnerable people seeking payments and support.

“Victims of family and domestic violence sometimes need to leave their home without being able to take their identity documents with them,” the department said. “For some, these documents are withheld by the perpetrator of the violence.

“The department could use the [facial verification system] to match a victim’s facial biometrics to a government-held record, providing a quicker, more seamless avenue for them to access payments and services.”

The department did not provide to the committee examples of people fraudulently seeking payments, but said there were 17,189 crisis payments provided in 2017-2018.

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