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Queensland set for licence database upload as advocates urge caution

About 4 million photos will be uploaded in the second half of the year, the state Transport and Main Roads Department said – though an exact timeline was still being established.

Remaining states and territories will follow in the next 18 months, Home Affairs said in response to questions on notice from Tasmanian Greens Senator Nick McKim.

The still non-operational system has come under fire from privacy advocates and human rights groups since it was agreed to at a Coalition of Australian Governments meeting in 2017.

The intergovernmental agreement – signed by all states and territories, including the Commonwealth – promised “robust privacy and security safeguards”.

Dr Monique Mann, a senior criminology lecturer at Deakin University and Australian Privacy Foundation board member, said the states should be holding off any uploads until the legal framework is in place.

“I find it concerning that the state governments … are rushing forward with this plan,” she said.

The Commonwealth’s own Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security sent the national identity-matching bill underpinning the system back to the drawing board last year, taking into account “privacy, security and … robust safeguards”.

In its 2018 submission on the draft Identity-matching Services Bill, the Australian Human Rights Commission recommended “substantial” redrafting to better outline its design and operation.

Queensland Privacy Commissioner Philip Green said the federal government’s authority to operate the system should be written in “black-letter law”.

“We passed legislation back before the Commonwealth Games to enable us to participate,” he said. “Other states have not even gone that far.”

Mr Green said the system’s stated aim of cracking down on identity theft was “actually quite good” from a privacy perspective.

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“To me they were on the right track, but it’s all gone deathly quiet,” he said.

Dr Mann described the actions of the states as, in effect, “ignoring” the PJCIS.

A Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said: “Queensland is scheduled for connection in the second half of 2020, subject to government approvals. Timeframes are yet to be finalised.”

The spokesperson said they understood the Commonwealth legislation was due to be considered later in the year and Queensland’s uploading of data would take “any progress” into account.

Home Affairs was contacted for comment. Other agreements required to be in place under the COAG agreement are also being considered by the state.

Mr Green said Queensland had “understandably” changed laws to enable its participation ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but this was “pretty much useless” without the federal system in operation.

The “sneaky” use of controversial facial-matching platform Clearview AI by police forces nationwide, revealed in a leaked client list obtained by BuzzFeed last year, was among reasons to be cautious about the expansion of such technologies outside a legislative framework, Dr Mann said.

In December, Australian Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology until there was a legal framework to safeguard human rights.

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