Cards, profiles and templates – regulating human biometric Information and biological material

Dr Marcus Smith1

1Charles Sturt University , Canberra, Australia

Databases of human biometric information and biological material have existed in Australia since the 1970s. Despite the significance of this material and the sensitivity of the information that can potentially be obtained, regulation has been minimal and the overall approach incoherent. This is particularly concerning in the context of the rapid advancement of biometric identification.

This presentation examines three collections of human biometric information or biological material held by government in Australia, comparing the regulatory approach that has been adopted in relation to each. The collections that will be discussed include newborn screening cards, which contain a blood sample collected from all babies at birth; DNA profiles, created from biological samples collected by police at crime scenes and from suspects and convicted offenders; and automated facial recognition templates, digitally created from driver licence and passport photographs and integrated into a new government data system.

The presentation compares legal issues and regulatory approaches arising in relation to each, seeking to identify commonalities that could lead to a more consistent and effective approach to regulating databases of human biological material and biometric information.

Australian regulation will be compared with examples from overseas jurisdictions and conclusions drawn regarding possible reforms in Australia that would provide an effective and integrated approach, capable of adapting to new biometric technologies.


Dr Marcus Smith holds graduate degrees in regulation of technology from the University of Cambridge and the Australian National University, and is currently Senior Lecturer in Law at Charles Sturt University. He has worked in academic, parliamentary and government settings. His publications include DNA Evidence in the Australian Legal System (LexisNexis, 2015) and Biometrics, Crime and Security (Routledge, 2018).

About the Association

The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

It encourages open discussion and debate on a range of bioethical issues, providing a place where people can ask difficult questions about ideas and practices associated with health and illness, biomedical research and human values.

The AABHL seeks to foster a distinctive Australasian voice in bioethics, and provide opportunities for international engagement through its membership, journal and conferences.

Members come from all the contributing humanities, social science and science disciplines that make up contemporary bioethics.

Many members have cross-disciplinary interests and all seek to broaden the dialogues in which all members of the wider community ultimately have an interest.

The AABHL is a supportive, creative and challenging community that provides a rich source of continuing academic refreshment and renewal.

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