Terror reforms: States agree to national face-matching scheme, longer pre-charge detention

State and territory leaders have agreed to hand over driver's licence photos to the Commonwealth to create a national database for biometric face-matching, which will be used to track terror suspects in public places.

Police agencies around the country will soon be able to instantly access a national database of faces to cross-reference with CCTV images of suspected terrorists and other criminals.

Private entities – possibly including airport operators – could also access the database with government approval, the prime minister said.  

State and territory governments agreed on Thursday to hand over driver’s licence photos, to supplement the Commonwealth’s collection of passport photos and set up the national database.

Mr Turnbull said the current system, where it can take police up to seven days to check against licence records, was out of date.

“It shouldn't take seven days to be able to verify someone's identity, or seek to match a photograph of somebody that is a person of interest,” Mr Turnbull said after signing an agreement with every state and territory.

“Imagine the power of being able to identify, to be looking out for and identify, a person suspected of being involved in terrorist activities walking into an airport, walking into a sporting stadium,” the prime minister said ahead of the meeting on Wednesday.

Mr Turnbull stressed the database was a much faster, automated way of matching faces, but did not involve any new data being collected.

Victorian Labor premier Daniel Andrews agreed and dismissed privacy concerns raised by some civil rights groups.

“Some people have the luxury of being able to have that notional debate. Those of us in positions of leadership do not have that luxury,” Mr Andrews said.

The state premiers also agreed on a new federal law that will allow terror suspects to be detained by to 14 days without a charge.

NSW is the only state that currently allows two weeks of pre-charge detention. As most terrorism investigations are jointly conducted by federal agencies, the new Commonwealth law will allow the longer detention around the country.

The COAG national security meeting also agreed on strict new laws to ban the possession of terror instruction manuals and how-to guides, including documents like bomb recipes.

The new law would reportedly not require the accused to have the means to act on any terrorism plan. Just having the document would be enough.

There will also be a new law on terrorism hoaxes to help crack down on faked threats that waste police resources. Terrorism hoaxes are already prohibited under various rules, but the government said police had requested clearer legislation. 


3 min read
Published 5 October 2017 at 1:11pm
By James Elton-Pym