The coalition led Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has rejected the Department of Home Affairs plans for a national facial recognition database and new surveillance powers, telling the government to redraft its controversial legislation with better safeguards and consideration for privacy.

It is the first time the parliament’s powerful joint security committee has recommended legislation be withdrawn, redrafted and resubmitted to the committee for review since 2002, according to The Guardian’s chief political correspondent, Sarah Martin.

The current PJCIS, chaired by Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and with several heavyweight ministers and shadow ministers, reviewed the Identity-matching Services Bill 2019 and tabled its report in Parliament today.

“Labor and Liberal members of the committee are uniting to recommend that the identity matching services bill be completely redrafted and referred back to the intelligence and security committee for further inquiry when it is re-introduced,” shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said.

Hastie said the committee “expresses broad support for the objectives of the bill but agrees that the bill as it stands does not adequately incorporate enough detail”.

The legislation would allow the Department of Home Affairs operate a federated hub and spoke model of identity data sharing between governments agencies and in some cases non-government entities. It would also hand security forces new surveillance powers.

The proposed system sparked strong criticism from human rights groups, academics, and privacy advocates, including fears of a mass surveillance capability.

The Department of Home Affairs has argued the system is not intended for mass surveillance, is proportionate to the risk of serious crime, and has sufficient safeguards.

But today the PJCIS disagreed, recommending the legislation and the scheme’s accompanying bill – an amendment to the Australian Passport Act –  be redrafted and subsequently re-reviewed.

According to the committee’s report, the new bill should take into account the following principles:

  • the regime should be built around privacy, transparency and subject to robust safeguards,  
  • the regime should be subject to Parliamentary oversight and reasonable, proportionate and transparent functionality, 
  • the regime should be one that requires annual reporting on the use of the identity-matching services, and 
  • the primary legislation should specifically require that there is a Participation Agreement that sets out the obligations of all parties participating in the identity-matching services in detail.
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