The downsides of nation’s hyper-security

WHILE at first glance uploading all of Australia's drivers licence photos into a central database in the name of national security seems logical, it is not without some serious downsides.

The worst is the obvious potential for ‘big brother’-style surveillance of individuals who might not represent threats to the safety of the realm through the rapidly growing national network of CCTV cameras in shopping centres, on streets and elsewhere.

Critics, including members of the Australian Privacy Foundation, have been quick to point out the use of the driver's licence images in conjunction with facial recognition technology could breach international privacy law. Photos of the almost 50 per cent of Australians who hold passports are already in a national database.

APF member and criminology lecturer Adam Molnar is right in saying the use of the technology qualifies as mass undifferentiated surveillance that could be used regardless of innocence.

The photo database proposal is just one of a raft of initiatives that have been floated by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Others include making it an offence to possess instructional terrorist material, making it an offence to conduct terrorism hoaxes, and making it possible to hold people suspected of involvement in or knowledge of terrorism for up to 14 days without charge.

While one would have assumed terrorism hoaxes were already an offence, the proposals to make possessing instructional terrorist material and to allow suspects to be held for up to 14 days without charge are highly problematic. What qualifies as ‘instructional terrorist material’, for example? Could military training manuals and classics such as Sun Tzu's 2500-year-old The Art of War not be classified as such? Would there be scope for exemptions for academics, journalists and members of security forces?

The potential for the misuse of such a provision by security agencies is obvious. The same can be said for the 14 day without charge proposal.

Given a succession of Australian governments have passed six batches of legislation and signed off on control orders allowing individuals as young as 14 to be detained since 2004, it is fair to ask whether or not these latest proposals are necessary or desirable.

At what point does public safety end and legislative over-reach begin?