Biometrics Institute seeks smartcard privacy resolution

A plan to tackle privacy and security issues that continue to hamper the launch of the Australian Government’s A$1.1 billion Access Card was released by the Biometrics Institute recently.

Members of the Institute, which represents more than 100 biometric users such as the Australian Federal Police, Roads and Traffic Authority and Brisbane Airport Corporation, believe public acceptance of the proposed Access Card needs a boost, especially in privacy matters.

In a submission to the Senate Committee examining the Access Card legislation, the Biometrics Institute has proposed a six point plan.

The plan follows continuing parliamentary debate which has stalled the Access Card legislation with members of the Senate seeking additional privacy safeguards.

These new legislative demands have delayed progress on the card’s introduction as the new laws were expected to be passed by parliament at the end of April.

However, the government claims smartcard registration is still earmarked to commence in 2008 despite the missed deadlines.

In its submission to the Senate Committee, the Biometrics Institute said the government needs to assure the Australian public that benefits such as cost savings and privacy protection have been dealt with comprehensively.

The submission claims the Biometrics Institute recognized public privacy concerns some years ago and put in place world leading privacy protections which have been incorporated into its special Biometrics Institute Privacy Code.

This code was approved by the Australian Privacy Commissioner and came into effect on September 1, 2006.

The code goes beyond the level of protection provided by the Privacy Act.

This includes mandatory requirements for Privacy Impact Assessments and Audits and the inclusion of employee files in the code wherever a biometric is used.

The submission says that it is unacceptable for government agencies and the successful Access Card tenderers to comply only with the provisions of the Privacy Act.

“On a project as comprehensive as the Access Card, the Australian public will require a higher level of proactive privacy protection,” the submission states.

The plan also calls on the government to report annually to Parliament, the Australian National Audit Office and the Privacy Commissioner about the efficacy and privacy issues of the Access Card during both the rollout and management phases.

This is in addition to the establishment of a special parliamentary committee to oversight the Access Card and call for public comment and input every year.

To be introduced by 2010, the Access Card will streamline health and welfare benefits and is aimed at reducing fraud.

It will replace 17 cards including the Medicare card.

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