Facial recognition technology is fast becoming a basic tool of government, helping patrol borders, police streets across the country, assess eligibility for public programs and even monitor school attendance. Now, the federal government has proposed a more ambitious national facial recognition system — a leap into the future that needs to be debated thoroughly before irreversible decisions are made.

The government’s Identity-matching Services Bill 2019 is currently being reviewed by parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. If passed in its present form, it will empower the home affairs department to create a national database of people’s names, photographs and other identifying information, and to develop a facial recognition system that can match images against the database. The department will also establish a “hub” so that governments across Australia, and in some cases private entities, can exchange “identity-matching services.”

So far, Australian governments haven’t been terribly open about their use of facial recognition. When Queensland’s police minister, Mark Ryan, was asked how the state’s police were using the technology, he merely said that “there is some capability that the police may or may not have, which I can’t get into for obvious security reasons.”

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