air travel, Australia, passport

Australia: “Foreign fighters” bill invites debate

Opposition grows to storage of photo and biometric data (Sydney Morning Herald)

The legislation specifically clears the way for all Australians as well as foreigners to be photographed when they leave Australia and when they return if they go through automated passport gates – which are set to become far more commonly used.

The department estimates that between 40 and 60 per cent of the 35 million travellers leaving and entering Australia each year would be photographed, many millions of them Australians.

The department can also share the biometric information for “specified purposes” according to the bill’s explanatory memoranda, though it does not explain what these purposes are.

“Critics say the danger of such information being hacked is profound, given many personal electronic devices are now secured by fingerprints and iris scans.”

A couple of points that we’ve made before come to mind here.

First, if the government of Australia is incapable of keeping citizen information secure from hackers, is the biometric information of international travellers really a top-order concern? Surely, the government already secures information that is much more valuable to hackers than that.

Second, passports are interesting in that they aren’t just ID’s. They’re also an interoperability technology, a way two governments facilitate their agreement related to the treatment of civilian citizens traveling abroad. They only work unless there’s a government on both sides of the equation and any government on its site of the border can collect just about whatever information it desires as a condition of allowing a non-citizen entry into its territory.

Even if Australians reject the “foreign fighters” bill, they will still be subject to the information requested of them by the countries they visit, and that information can be shared back with Australia on a government-to-government basis.

With globalization and the lowering of cultural boundaries among the international travel set, it can seem like international travel is no big deal. Brussels is, in many ways, a lot like Washington, DC. But international travel is not without security risks to the visited country and international travelers should always be aware that their legal status outside their home country is very different than it is at home.

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