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    Sydney Morning Herald: Privacy fears growing as police tighten national grip

    In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reports on concerns about personal privacy amid data collection by law enforcement.

    Police say it makes their job faster and safer, but critics warn of the potential for the misuse of such mountains of information.

    The National Police Reference System was introduced last year and links information from all the nation’s police forces. Its 8.7 million records include names and aliases of ”persons of interest”, their criminal history, outstanding warrants, bail information, domestic violence orders and warnings they may be dangerous or carry firearms.

    Last financial year nearly 2.5 million checks were made against the system, an average of almost 80,000 a day. Email addresses and associates of ”persons of interest”, information about gun owners, stolen cars and missing people – and their next of kin – is also to be added.

    The database, accessible to the nation’s 50,000 police officers, also holds photographs of 2.8 million people, and another holds the fingerprints of 3.1 million – nearly one in five adults in the country. […]

    All this data is held or hosted by the little-known national organisation CrimTrac, which brokers police information. […]

    Its chief executive, Ben McDevitt, said the organisation took data security and privacy seriously and could audit all access to the system.

    ”Wherever privacy and technology interact, there are privacy issues … No system has zero vulnerability. All we can do is be very conscious and have the best systems,” he said. […]

    While [McDevitt] has ruled out a merger of all its databases, he said the NPRS would ”adapt to the changing needs of police”. Plans include facial recognition technology for the photos of offenders and missing people; cross-checking information about crimes in various states to find links among different offences; number plate recognition; links between the finger print system and records of detention centres; exchange of criminal history information with New Zealand and Britain; and a database of photos of child pornography and exploitation.

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