Facial recognition is coming to Australia, specifically the world of gambling. However, this may only be the beginning, as the government considers even more sweeping reforms.

In this article, we’ll look at the uses of this emerging technology. We’ll also discuss the possible pros and cons, as well as how it’s being employed in other countries.

Facial Recognition and Biometrics

Facial recognition is any technology capable of identifying a person based on existing digital or video images. It does this by comparing facial features, such as the width between eyes, length of nose, etc.

“Biometrics” is the name of the larger field. This involves both behavioural and physical characteristics used to measure and identify a specific individual. Behavioural examples include voice and gait. Physical characteristics include hand geometry, facial and/or iris recognition, and palm prints.

Identity-matching Services Bill of 2019

This bill was introduced into the House of Representatives, but it was not debated before the dissolution of the House. While initially intended to combat criminals and terrorists, it could easily be applied to the world of gambling. Here are some of the key points:

  • Also known as the IMS Bill.
  • Authorises the Department of Home Affairs to create and maintain facilities for the sharing of facial images between government agencies. In certain cases, private organizations can be included.
  • The Face Verification Service would help verify the identity of a specific individual. The Face Identification Service would match the images of one or more people.
  • The main goals would be to stop identity crime, promote law enforcement objectives, and uphold national security. It could also be applied to online gambling and porn sites to ensure that subscribers are of legal age.
  • Agencies must have a legal basis for gathering and disclosing information.
  • Each year, the Minister of Home Affairs would need to report to Parliament on how the services are being used.
  • Introduced alongside the Australian Passports Amendment Bill 2019. This would authorise the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to use identity-matching services.

Voices of Support

While most Australian politicians have been cautious about supporting the bill, it has found a measure of support from noted legal expert Anthony Cabot.

“In the context of online gambling, the use of facial recognition is particularly effective where the scan can be compared to government databases such as drivers’ license photos or passports.”

He also stated that facial recognition would be effective at online casinos as long as people had a choice in the matter.

“If the patron does not want to share his or her facial characteristics or other biometrics used to verify identification, they can simply opt not to play on the site.”

At the end of his interview, however, Cabot did urge caution.

“Any data retained by a commercial enterprise could be compromised if effective security precautions are not implemented.”

Voices of Opposition

Not all individuals were as optimistic as Anthony Cabot. In fact, a number of voices called out in opposition to the bill and facial recognition in general.

Senator Rex Patrick of South Australia said, “I think people should be very concerned about any government department that’s seeking to store this kind of information.”

Marc Rotenberg, the head of a privacy advocacy group, said, “The use of face scans will almost certainly raise privacy concerns for customers and compliance issues for casinos. A better technique would provide confirmation of age without revealing actual identity.”

The Australian Privacy Foundation and Future Wise also issued a joint statement. It read, “There appears to be no need, for example, to expose all Australian citizens to biometric data matching to remove duplicate records. It is incumbent on government to design other methods of record management that do not involve significant privacy incursions.”

Outside of Tabcorp Holdings building

Tabcorp Holdings

While the debate over the IMS Bill rages on, the largest gambling company in Australia is moving forward with facial recognition technology. Starting in the middle of 2020, Tabcorp Holdings will be introducing such equipment into its 400 TAB agencies. However, TAB retail terminals in clubs or pubs will not be impacted.

The goal is to reduce the number of underage gamblers. The facial recognition software helps identify those who may be underage and alerts the staff to their presence. This is the world’s first such effort to prevent underage punting.

Global Biometrics

The practice of biometrics has become an international topic. Here are some examples from various parts of the world:

  • In 2018, China accounted for almost half of the world’s facial recognition business, and that number is growing. Facial identity checks are currently in place at banks, hotels, hospitals, airports, and train stations. Last week, regulations went into effect requiring telecom carriers to scan the face of anyone buying a mobile phone.
  • In America, San Francisco recently became the first major city to ban the practice of facial recognition technology.
  • A British court recently ruled that police use of facial recognition does not violate human rights or privacy.
  • Various parts of Australia either already use the technology or have undertaken a trial period.
  • At the moment, at least 52 different governments are testing facial recognition software.

Further Reading

If you’d like to know more about relationship between government and gambling in Australia, please see the following: