Australia’s Immigration minister, Scott Morrison defends plan to collect travellers’ biometric data, saying that retaining sensitive personal information is ‘common standard’
There are concerns that travellers could be forced to undergo invasive searches, such as iris scans without privacy safeguards under proposed laws.
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But the bill also grants broader powers for customs and immigration officers to harvest information using “authorised systems” to collect personal data, and potentially share it with foreign and domestic government agencies.
If passed, travellers in Australian airports could be forced to undergo searches such as iris, thermal or biometric scanning without key privacy safeguards. The shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, has also raised concerns about the proposal.
Morrison told the ABC on Thursday the laws were a proportionate response to combat risks posed to Australia and ensure greater monitoring of movements in and out of the country.
“What we’re talking about here is biometric information which is becoming a common standard in what governments do to protect their citizens and to work together to protect more broadly against counter-terrorism and transnational crime and these tools are becoming the basic tools that are really necessary in a modern age to combat the real threats in a proportionate way,” he said.
The new laws have raised particular concerns because the types of personal information that can be harvested is at the discretion of the minister through regulations. The laws would also be without some existing privacy safeguards in the Migration Act, raising concerns about the security of the data.
Guardian Australia reported in February that the immigration department was involved in a major data breach where the personal details of 10,000 asylum seekers were accidentally placed on the immigration department’s website.
Morrison said any biometric data would be securely held and that “these are the internal systems that sit behind the various walls that are necessary to contain the security of this type of information”.
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