Australia said it will allow Facebook and Instagram photos to be used as part of its national surveillance database.

Senior officials from the attorney general’s office have confirmed that the government are also monitoring Facebook photos.

Some AUS$18.5 million (£8.62 million) will be spent on the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability database, which would retain still images that authorities could use to track people.

Although it had originally been indicated that the images would come from official documents such as drivers’ licenses, passport photographs or images taken from security cameras, the government said that using internet photographs is necessary because a person’s face is as unique as fingerprints.

According to a report by the Guardian, the Greens’ senator, Scott Ludlam, who is critical of the move, asked: “Is there any law that would prevent the system from ingesting [photographs] from publicly available sources like social media sites?”

In response, Andrew Rice, assistant secretary of the attorney general’s office, replied: “It’s possible that still images out of these kinds of environments could be put into the system. That would be a choice for the users of the system.”

The legislation, which will not have to pass through parliament, is expected to come into force in 2016. Although the government insists it will only be used to catch terrorists, the database is expected to store around 100 million photos, which is equal to four photos for every Australian.

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