Biometrics in Policing: mapping the Australian landscape

Prof Liz Campbell1

1Monash University, ,

The use of biometrics, that is, the measurement and analysis of unique physical or behavioural characteristics like fingerprints or DNA, is commonplace and valuable in policing. Biometrics enable the detection and verification of personal identity, and technological advances mean that biometric data are more readily available and may be compared /cross-checked against large datasets.

This paper examines police use and regulation in Australia of two specific biometric identifiers, one “physiological” in the form of facial images; the other “behavioural”: voice. It draws on data from Freedom of Information requests to determine the nature and extent of these biometrics’ use in policing federally and at state level.

The paper then critiques the regulation of police use of these biometrics. Legal change in relation to face image comparison through facial recognition technology is likely: the federal Identity-Matching Services Bill 2018 (which is yet to be enacted) would authorise the Department of Home Affairs to collect, use and disclose identification information in order to operate existing systems that will support a set of new biometric face-matching services. The paper considers whether and how the existing and proposed regulatory framework is applicable to other forms of biometrics like voice, which raise particular issues regarding privacy, identity, and dignity.


Professor Liz Campbell is the inaugural Francine V McNiff Chair in Criminal Jurisprudence at Monash University, Melbourne. Her research focuses on how the law responds to sophisticated, profit-driven crime, both by otherwise legitimate corporate entities as well as networks of organised crime. Another strand of her research looks at the use of biometrics in investigation and prosecution, and she is a member of the UK Home Office Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group. Her research has been funded by the Research Council UK’s Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security, the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Law Foundation of New Zealand, the Fulbright Commission, the Modern Law Review, and the Carnegie Trust.


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