Facial recognition technology put on hold in Adelaide amidst privacy concerns – ABC News

Facial recognition technology put on hold in Adelaide amidst privacy concerns
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About $3 million will be spent on a new Adelaide surveillance network, but a council proposal passed overnight means police cannot access its facial recognition technology (FRT) without laws to protect people's privacy.
Adelaide City Council is replacing its ageing CCTV network with 360-degree cameras that have the capability for facial and number plate recognition, as well as low-light performance and object tracing.
The council originally planned to leave what functions were utilised to the discretion of SA Police (SAPOL), but an amendment proposed by councillor Phil Martin means the camera's FRT capabilities cannot be accessed.
"The police will be asked to provide a formal agreement that they will not use FRT unless, and until, the Parliament of SA passes legislation providing guidelines," he said.
"We're not going to place anybody's privacy at risk until the parliament decides how SAPOL goes about using the technology."
The move follows a 2021 report from the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that called for all states and territories to implement a moratorium on biometric technologies, including FRT, until laws were reformed to protect citizens from harmful surveillance.
This included laws to regulate the technology's use so it expressly protected human rights, applying it to decision-making that had significant legal effects upon individuals, or where there was a high risk to human rights, such as in policing and law enforcement.
It also wanted a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy and safeguards that prevented misuse and avoid injustices, such as if FRT falsely identifying innocent people as criminals.
The introduction of FRT has been attracting criticism worldwide about privacy breaches and surveillance overreach.
Earlier this month, social media giant Facebook shut down its facial recognition system and deleted the faceprints of more than one billion people amid growing concerns about the technology and its misuse.
In Hong Kong during August 2019, smart lampposts were destroyed by pro-democracy protesters due to fears about FRT being used by Chinese authorities.
But in Adelaide's CBD, SAPOL is already using FRT after successful trials were held in 2017 to apply software to CCTV, ATM, and some social media footage, with its NEC NeoFace system fully implemented in 2019.
A police spokesperson said it was considered an "valuable investigate tool" that helped to "identify a suspect for a crime which, at times, can also prevent further crime".
"Images are compared to a database that consists of photos of people that have previously been arrested in South Australia," he said.
"We do not have images of regular citizens in our database."
The spokesperson said there were "robust policies, practices, and procedures in place to ensure that the administration of the database is within legislative requirements".
He said SAPOL was only providing an advisory capacity for Adelaide City Council's network upgrade "and had no involvement in the final decision as to who wins the tender".
Scientists are working to overcome so called "obfuscation" and "impersonation" techniques that could allow people to avoid facial recognition detection.
Cr Martin said there was no doubt there were "enormous advantages" to FRT, particularly by law enforcement agencies in the prevention of major crime.
"It's been useful in tracking the movements of people like terrorists, or those suspected of terrorism, and I can see it has great use, but it does require some kind of framework that governs its use," he said.
"If those cameras are used, for example, to police people smoking illegally in Rundle Mall, or double parking in Waymouth Street, then that's an issue, an issue of proportionality."
Cr Martin also posed questions about how data on citizens would be retained.
He pointed out that despite state government promises that QR code check-in information would be deleted after 28 days as part of SA's COVID-19 response, the state auditor-general found that SA Health was, in fact, retaining such data indefinitely.
"How many times have we been to Foodland? How many times have we been to the pokies? Is it reasonable for that sort of information to be retained?" Cr Martin said.
Law Society of SA president Rebecca Sandford said the society recognised the potential benefits to the "appropriate use of FRT in investigating serious crime and mitigating threats to safety", but backed the AHRC Report on Human Rights on Technology.
"Given the introduction of QR code check-ins and home quarantine monitoring over the last 12 months, in addition to the advancing capabilities of surveillance technologies, it is more important than ever to ensure there is an appropriate and comprehensive legislative framework in place to protect the privacy of South Australians," she said.
ACC's City Safe CCTV Network upgrade, funded by the federal government, will be rolled out over the next 18 months, with the council hoping the state government can implement a legislative framework before it is completed.
A state government spokesperson said it was "always considering new and emerging technologies and what protections and safeguards are in place".
The SA government earlier this year utilised a FRT app as part of its home quarantine trials and, as part of reforms to reduce problem gamblers, has also promoted FRT use by pokie venues to prevent barred patrons from entering venues.
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