Smartcard licence SLIPs into gear

New smartcard licence technology is designed to allow states to cross-check driver information

Australian states have finally struck an agreement that sets a nationwide standard for smartcard-based drivers' licences, but Queensland appears to be the only state that has so far committed to rolling out the controversial technology. Dubbed the Smartcard Licence Interoperability Protocol (SLIP), the standards agreement aims to ultimately give all Australian traffic and law enforcement authorities access to driver information, including whether a licence has been suspended, regardless of where a motorist is pulled over. Police and transport authorities have long argued that a national licence-checking system is needed to clamp down on identity fraud and suspended or banned drivers obtaining new credentials from other states because state motor registry computer systems cannot cross-check licence information. Announced by Federal infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese on Friday, the new SLIP framework is based on Queensland's smartcard drivers' licence, which has been under development for the last five years and is due to be delivered into the hands of motorists in 2010. The chip-based licences make it much cheaper and easier for drivers to update and change their personal details because there is no need for a new document to be issued. But they have also created a dilemma for businesses that have relied on licences to check both a person's identity and their address. Under the Queensland scheme, a driver's residential address will no longer be printed on the surface of the new smartcard licences, a step that the state government has argued is necessary to protect the privacy of individuals from the likes of nightclub bouncers who often take electronic scans of the documents. Banks and utilities normally demand proof of current address as part of the 100-point identity check from customers before they allow a new account to be opened. Financial institutions had previously sought to be able to read some chip-held data on both the recently dumped federal welfare smartcard and new electronic passports, including the ability to access and display the digital image of the document holder held on a chip. Most electronic identity documents, including Australian passports, now use some form digital photograph combined with a biometric algorithm which generates a signature out of a person's unique facial characteristics. Such technology potentially allows police and other authorities to cross check thousands of photographs simultaneously to help determine if multiple documents have been issued to the same person under different names. But the technology has also attracted criticism from civil liberties groups, which are worried it could be abused by authorities to keep tabs people such as demonstrators by matching surveillance footage with photographic registries. Some transport authorities are not waiting for smartcard licences before deploying biometric facial matching technology to their photo registries. Last month the NSW Roads and Transport Authority issued tenders for a new biometric facial recognition system to help it weed out identity thieves as part of a document security crackdown. Australian Financial Review NZ Police roll out facial recognition technology

New Zealand's Police force is also using facila recognition technology, introducing a new image management system that can compare images of suspects with photos already in the Police database. Known as IMS, the new technology is replacing a ten-year-old legacy system called PIMS, which holds photos of prisoners and firearms licence holders. PIMS holds around 800,000 photos of people who have been arrested. These are being relocated onto IMS. Users will be able to create their own photo line-ups and run searches against other photos.. The system uses biometric facial recognition to create a template of a person's face, says national forensic services advisor Inspector John Walker.

"Each time a photo is loaded into the system, IMS uses facial recognition software to automatically locate and record a number of points and measurements from the person's face," he said last Decmber These physical characteristics include the distance between eyes, nose, mouth, angles of the jaw and forehead, and lengths of portions of the face. "This biometric data creates a unique template which can be invaluable for identifying suspects from photos," said Walker. In the future, IMS could also play a role in helping identify suspects from closed circuit television cameras, he added.

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