Summary Offences (Biometric Identification) Amendment Bill 2015


Mr GARDNER(Morialta) (16:32:03): Speaking on the Summary Offences (Biometric Identification) Amendment Bill 2015, I do so obviously with an interest as the shadow minister for police. It is a matter that the police minister and I have discussed in a range of fora, including estimates, along with the police commissioner who provided some advice on that matter. It is also in relation to the portable fingerprint scanners, the use of which this bill seeks to make further enabled. I have also had the opportunity to be briefed by SA Police and, in particular, I thank those senior officers who took the time to do so.

In wanting to establish the nature of the tests that are sought to be enabled, or at least the compulsion that is sought to be enabled by this bill, my adviser, Ms Sarah Hennessy, and I attended at police headquarters and voluntarily offered ourselves to be scanned and tested. I inform members of parliament with pride, and not just a little relief, that the scan came up identifying 'no hit' for both of us, in fact.

The Hon. J.R. Rau interjecting:

Mr GARDNER: I am pleased that the Attorney-General is also as relieved as I was. In doing it, I did take some cause to think about this because the reason the bill is necessary is that, when police officers feel the need to ask a citizen for the scan, half of them say no. That is at the moment; that is according to the evidence provided at estimates, and I will read some of it a bit later and, indeed, the anecdotal evidence provided by police officers to myself and the officers conducting the briefing.

I had cause to think about why they might be saying no as I was being briefed on it. I had this moment of hesitation. I knew I was not going to get a hit; I knew I had never done anything that would possibly require a hit; and I had this unpleasant, uncomfortable sense in myself of, 'This actually doesn't feel very nice waiting to be judged in this way.'

We are in fact requiring our citizens to present themselves for judgement when a police officer not only has reasonable cause to suspect that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offence, but also, indeed, when the police officer has reasonable cause to suspect that they can assist with an investigation or a suspected offence. We are requiring that people submit themselves to this test without any longer having a reasonable cause to suspect that they themselves have committed or might be committing an offence. I support the bill, but I do not do so lightly, because I understand that a number of people have concerns with that.

I understand that the Bar Association has raised concerns and is opposed to the bill, and I understand that the Legal Services Commission has suggested a broader aspect; that is, where it is reasonably felt by the officer that a citizen might assist with an investigation or suspected offence, such a person should be excluded. We do take this very seriously and we do think long and hard. Ultimately, there is always this tension between the requirements of our community to have a safe community and one where civil liberties are protected. The question is: is it an unreasonable requirement that we ask our citizens to assist police in this way? Obviously, the opposition has, on reflection, agreed with the government that it is reasonable, but it is not appropriate, I think, to do so lightly.

The amendments to the Summary Offences Act that this bill entails provide for the use of mobile fingerprint scanners by SA Police. These scanners are an item of kit that was promised by the government in the 2010 election, and they have been operating for some time. I know that there are many people who read the Hansard who also delight in reading the budget papers in detail, so I will direct them to the area in the police portfolio statements where they are described every year as 'high-tech crime-fighting equipment'. It is always a delightful read, it is an interesting read. Certainly since I have been reading the budget papers there are always some delays; so I asked the minister this year:

Why has the high-tech crime-fighting equipment, identified in last year's budget for completion by June 2015, been delayed to 2016 in this year's budget, and will all of it be delivered on time?

The minister answered:

The high-tech crime equipment involves a range of projects, including the portable fingerprint scanners—

and he goes on to list some others—

Some of those things have been implemented—not all have. In one area we need some changes to legislation to enable them to be implemented as well.

He then goes on to explain that fingerprint scanners are entirely in voluntary use at the moment. The minister identified that the fingerprint solution won the 'inaugural Premier's award and was the runner-up in the 2000 national awards too'. I assume he means the 2010 national awards. So it is a good scheme but obviously one where it was not able to be fully implemented because people were not required to provide their fingerprints if asked.

Moving on from what the minister said about it, because he then goes on to say that they need legislation, the Commissioner of Police Grant Stevens made some comments that I think basically sum up the police's case for this bill. He states:

…we do not have the specific numbers on how many times it is refused, but we can say that, whilst in a voluntary capacity, it is assisting operational police in identifying people who happily submit to that process, and it eliminates the need for some people to be apprehended on the basis of unable to confirm their identity, and it also eliminates people from being unnecessarily arrested for warrants and other matters like that if we are able to clarify the identification in the first instance.

Clearly, these scanners have been providing a useful purpose up until now. However, the anecdotal evidence—and it is only anecdotal evidence; as the commissioner said, they do not have the specific numbers—suggests that half the people asked are declining. Obviously those people who are wishing to prove who they are and that they are not who they might be suspected to be are using it and coming up with no hit as identified.

Some people are obviously just relaxed about providing when asked, and that is great, and then there are some people, I understand, who, despite the fact that they are on the NAFIS database, are still voluntarily offering themselves, and police are getting some people to identify themselves through the fingerprint scanners voluntarily, even though it perhaps might not be in their own best interest to do so, as they do not need to. However, there is still that cohort who do not.

There are some people who this will enable us to catch, and that is good. There are some people who are going to be upset when they are informed that they will be required to submit themselves to these scans. I hope that those people will understand that this parliament does not ask them to do that lightly.

I note that the definition of biometric data will enable, in the future, forms of biometric identification to be used other than just the fingerprint scanning under the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System and, at that time, regulations can be introduced. I will certainly be paying close attention to such regulations, if they are introduced, and I think it behoves all of us to do so. This is a fairly new direction for the interface between technology and the law and something that certainly, as identified, makes some people uncomfortable, so I trust that things will not be added to that regulation lightly.

As the Attorney-General said in his second reading speech, the wider use of mobile fingerprint scanners by police is expected to improve identification rates, reduce the incidence of people avoiding being identified and allow for identification while police officers remain in the field. I think that this will save police officers on the beat a lot of time and angst and, in that way, it is certainly going to have the opportunity to make a positive step towards officers doing their job. I think that it will, in a practical sense, benefit the community and improve public safety.

It is very important that section 74A(4a) makes it an offence if data is stored for longer than reasonably required to complete the identification procedure, with a significant fine. I think the maximum penalty is a $10,000 fine or imprisonment for two years, if somebody does so. That is very important in protecting people's personal data so that it is only used for the purpose for which it is meant, and I commend the inclusion of that measure in the bill.

I think that the safeguards are suitable. The use of these devices does not contribute to the records held on the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System database in any way. It is very important for people to understand that because I know that, when there was some media in relation to this matter, looking at the comments on the media sites where members of the public who, upon being informed that this might be coming in, put in their contributions, there were many theories about what might happen to these fingerprints which would be illegal under this provision. There were many theories and suspicions about government taking people's fingerprints and using them inappropriately.

I am satisfied that this bill does not enable that to happen, and I hope that members of the community will be too, but I identify that I am not sure all of them will be. All we can do is say that the police must abide by the law, as I am sure, in South Australia, they will. With those few words, I look forward to the contribution that this bill will make to improving public safety in South Australia and to making the jobs of some of our brave police officers easier. Hopefully, in actuality, it will in fact make it a more efficient system as well.

I support the bill. I thank in particular the shadow minister (the Deputy Leader of the Opposition) for her detailed work in preparing the opposition's position, and the articulate, concise and forensic way in which she set out the opposition's case in her comments. I also thank the member for Stuart who, as on so many occasions as a former shadow police minister, has assisted me in my understanding of these matters, and I look forward to hearing his remarks on the matter as well.