Australia changes privacy law regarding criminal investigations

Federal Government removes ban on biometric data used for crime-fighting

The Gillard Government’s new privacy legislation has removed the ban on biometric data being handed to crime-fighting agencies.

Officials say the move could be of immense benefit in fighting crime, but privacy lobbyists liken it to a “Big Brother” development.

The Attorney-General’s Department yesterday revealed police would be able to ask private companies – including shops, pubs and clubs – to hand over patrons’ facial scans.

“These changes will allow, for example, a pub to pass on to police a face scan of someone involved in a glassing attack,” a spokeswoman said.

“Or, police could ask a government agency to help them identify an alleged murderer through matching an image obtained via CCTV (closed circuit television) with client photos.”

Note: “Facial scan” is another term for “Photo.”

If the police can’t ask for evidence helpful in solving a crime, why have police (or privately owned CCTV cameras) in the first place?

Biometric technology, like all analytic tools, works both ways. It can eliminate suspects as well as indicting them.

UK Surveillance Commissioner Speaks

CCTV Technology has ‘Overtaken Ability to Regulate it’ (Wall Street Journal)

“A tiny camera in a dome with a 360-degree view can capture your face in the crowd, and there are now the algorithms that run in the background. I’ve seen the test reviews that show there’s a high success rate of picking out your face against a database of known faces.”

Research into automatic facial recognition being carried out by the Home Office has reached a 90 per cent success rate, he said, and it was “improving by the day”.

The headline quote comes from this more detailed article from The Independent, and might best be taken as a warning rather than a statement of fact. After all, if meant literally, the statement belongs in a resignation letter.

Surveillance Commissioner Andrew Rennison:

Let’s have a debate – if the public support it, then fine. If the public don’t support it, and we need to increase the regulation, then that’s what we need to do.”

Sounds like Transparency and Consent to me.

Retail and CCTV Vendors are Catching on to Facial Recognition

The new face of CCTV surveillance (The Retail Bulletin)

“There have been huge advancements in both facial recognition analytics and in network camera technology, which is ultimately the source that the analytics have to work from.

“In particular HDTV cameras offer higher resolution video and enhanced clarity and sharpness, that complements the accuracy of facial recognition solutions making identification even simpler and more accurate.”

Retail outlets and CCTV vendors are catching on to the opportunities for a return on investment facial recognition technology provide.

The article neglects to mention, however, that the installed base of CCTV cameras is poorly suited to facial recognition.

Facial recognition is what it says: the recognition of faces. It’s not top-of-the-head recognition; it’s not profile recognition; it’s not back-of-the-head recognition. In general, CCTV cameras have been installed to observe and/or record what people are doing, not who they are. They have been deployed to answer the question, “what’s going on?”

This is changing and can be overcome by moving a camera down and changing its zoom to where it is capturing good face images. As CCTV installers become more familiar with facial recognition technology, results will improve dramatically.

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