Expert review puts spotlight on police use of facial recognition technology

Police to tighten guidance on facial recognition technology following expert review by Dr Nessa Lynch from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and Dr Andrew Chen from Waipapa Taumata Rau—The University of Auckland.

An independent review of the New Zealand Police’s use and future use of facial recognition technology (FRT) has made 10 recommendations to reduce the risk of harm from the controversial technology.

The review, commissioned by the Police, was co-authored by Dr Nessa Lynch, associate professor at the Faculty of Law at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and Dr Andrew Chen, research fellow at Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at Waipapa Taumata Rau—The University of Auckland.

FRT refers to a suite of technology that involves processing a person’s facial image. This technology can have significant privacy and human rights impacts, Dr Lynch said.

Releasing the review today, the Police said it had accepted all 10 recommendations, including continuing to pause any roll out of live FRT, which can track people in real-time.

“Police will not use live automated FRT until the impact from a security, privacy, legal, and ethical perspective is fully understood,” Police deputy chief executive Mark Evans said.

Mr Evans acknowledged Police needed to ensure the technology was used “safely and responsibly”.

A response plan, based on the review’s recommendations, is being implemented to make sure Police use of FRT for identification purposes is clear, Mr Evans said.

Dr Lynch said she was pleased the Police had accepted the review’s recommendations and that it was committed to addressing the issues raised.

“This is an area where the law lags technology, and by taking a principled and evidence-based approach now, Police can avoid the problems and negative impacts apparent in jurisdictions where the technology is in wider use,” she said.

While the review focused on policing, Dr Lynch said there were broader concerns about FRT use, particularly in the private sector.

“As raised in my previous work, there are wider questions around the use of this technology across society, which Aotearoa must grapple with at a state level.”

Other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, are moving to restrict high-risk uses of the technology and Aotearoa must keep up with these developments, she said.

Review recommendations

The expert review’s 10 recommendations to the Police on the use of FRT were:

  • Continue to pause any consideration of live automated FRT
  • Review the collection and retention of facial images
  • Continue to strengthen processes for ethical commissioning of technology
  • Ensure continuous governance and oversight of deployment
  • Uphold Te Tiriti in partnership with Māori
  • Uphold transparency
  • Develop a policy statement on FRT surveillance in public places
  • Implement guidelines for access to third party systems
  • Embed a culture of ethical use of data in the organisation
  • Implement a system for ongoing horizon scanning.