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Chris Lynch: The dangers of police facial recognition software

Chris Lynch,
Publish Date
Thu, 10 Dec 2020, 11:42am

Chris Lynch: The dangers of police facial recognition software

Chris Lynch,
Publish Date
Thu, 10 Dec 2020, 11:42am

It has been reported New Zealand police are setting up a multimillion-dollar facial recognition system that could identify people from live streaming CCTV.

RNZ reported this could push the country into new territory for tracking citizens.

Facial recognition technology has been criticised for years, with researchers showing it to be biased against members of different races and ethnicities.

In January, Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, an African American man, was arrested after a facial recognition system falsely matched his photo with security footage of a shoplifter.

Privacy expert, Christchurch-based Kathryn Dalziel didn't hold back her reservations.

She's concerned there's been no privacy impact assessment and suggested it was disingenuous to suggest the facial recognition system was just an upgrade saying "it's a lot more significant than that".

She said with any new upgrade, you have to ask what are the purposes? How is the information stored? And who has access to the data?

Dalziel said we're seeing more and more issues when it comes to security in Government.

"Even this year New Zealand has seen significant privacy breaches and we've already seen people using privileged data for their own personal and political agendas."

So how do we protect information from getting into the hands of disgruntled employees?

There's nothing wrong with making sure police have all the tools they can to fight crime, but Dalziel said we have to make sure we don't see "functional creep" where there are no ongoing protections in place to ensure that if there's a change of Government, they can't simply change to rules to offload data to private business entities.

She said "we're constantly being told we're a team of 5 million and if less than 1 per cent of the population is in prison, are we really getting bang for our buck".

Dalziel wants New Zealanders to consider if they'd be okay about going down the same road as China, where its government has surveillance on its citizens.

Citizens are given a watching score and evaluated on the way they behave.

This can affect their ability to get schooling and even their ability to get insurance.

But nothing to hide nothing to fear?

Amnesty International says this is dangerous thinking because it encourages complete trust in state powers – it assumes that you will never face wrongful suspicion or misuse of powers, for only the guilty are affected by mass surveillance.

The Law Foundation said in a report this week New Zealand Police have stated that they will not use this technology, but have the capability, and indeed recently concluded a deal to purchase a new system which has this capability.

It said that although the police have no plans to use the technology, there is currently no official position on this, and no legal or regulatory barrier to the police deployment of this technology.

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