Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (20 August) . . Page.. 2484 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
In the future we may have no need for identification numbers. Our bodies will be our identification. Technology is being developed for computers to be able to accurately and efficiently scan various parts of our body, such as the distance between points on our faces, the pattern of our retinas, or the shape and skin texture of our fingers. Signatures have been used for many years as a form of biometric identification, but the use of information technology has opened up vast new opportunities for accurate, non-intrusive identification.
Interest in biometric identification technology has increased since September 11, as governments seek to track down people they regard as enemies of the state. For example, there was a small article, with a photograph, in the Canberra Times on 27 May this year which reported that visitors to the Statue of Liberty in New York are now having their faces videoed before entry and that the digital images are transmitted to a computer and compared to a database of images of known or suspected terrorists or criminals. If a match occurs, the individual is denied entry and held for questioning. The potential for innocent people to be misidentified by such security systems and to have their liberty threatened is enormous.
The constant surveillance by Big Brother as presented in George Orwell's book 1984 seems to have now been reduced to a silly TV show. But perhaps George Orwell merely got the year wrong.
There is certainly an ongoing trend for governments and large corporate organisations to have increasing stored knowledge of the activities of individuals. The history of identification systems throughout the world provides evidence of their application to additional purposes not announced or perhaps not even contemplated at the commencement of the scheme.
For example, the tax file number has been extended progressively from its original use in the taxation system and now needs to be quoted regularly in employment, banking and social security situations. While Australians rejected the idea of an Australia card as a mass personal identification scheme many years ago on the grounds that it was an invasion of privacy, since then information technology-based identification systems have been introduced in a more piecemeal and incremental fashion.
This may be lulling us into a false sense of security that our privacy is being adequately protected. The efforts of the Commonwealth to establish privacy legislation and a privacy commissioner are to be applauded, but legislation is only as good as its implementation.
On one hand, this bill looks like a small step in using digital photograph technology for ensuring the integrity of the driver licence system. On the other hand, it is just one more increment in the trend for everything about us, our movements, our finances, our legal status, our activities and our purchases to be recorded in a computer somewhere and for our lives to be governed by the correct and proper operation of those computers.
On balance, I think this initiative can be supported because of its limited and controlled application. But I do think the government and this Assembly need to keep the broader privacy issues in mind in any further initiatives like this.