Facial recognition technology – has it gone too far?

What is facial recognition technology?

Facial recognition technology is an area of technology that is growing very rapidly, without most people even realising it. It’s uses and applications are already widespread. If you purchased a Windows based computer or iPhone in the last few years, chances are your biometrics (these are characteristics of your face that can be read electronically with scanners) are already being analysed and utilised.

Fingerprint technology has been around for much longer and is now a very common part of every day life, but facial recognition has far greater potential. This is because, unlike fingerprint technology, you don’t have to actively make contact with a reader in order for your biometrics to be read. You could simply be walking down the street and have your biometrics read by a facial scanner. Recently when coming back from overseas my facial biometrics were read at a Customs checkpoint. I don’t know when exactly this was implemented but it must’ve been sometime within the last few years so it’s incredible to think how quickly this technology can be rolled out.

Can it be a dangerous thing?

Whilst there are obvious safety advantages to facial recognition technology, there is the potential for abuse and misuse as well. Recently in New South Wales the Australian Hotels Association and Clubs NSW announced the development of cutting edge facial recognition that they intend to install inside the gambling areas of all gambling establishments, including clubs and pubs, across New South Wales.

The explanation provided by them is so that they can stop problem gamblers with self-imposed bans from playing on their poker machines – meaning that if a person has agreed to a ban sits down to play a pokie machine, the scanners will recognise them and exclude them from being able to continue playing.

However, many groups point to the Government’s poor record of misusing personal information, such as facial biometrics, as a basis to claim that the Government may use this information to monitor, track or target ordinary people.

It comes as no surprise then that the proposal to implement facial recognition devices at gambling establishments has attracted a significant amount of criticism. One concern raised is who exactly will have access to the facial images, how and where will they be stored, for how long will they be kept and what other identifying information will be stored along with it.

The problems with facial recognition technology

Although facial recognition technology has been in use in Australia for many years now, the technology has so far proven to be far from accurate.

In 2019, the Queensland Police Service provided a report into the use of facial recognition software during the 2018 Commonwealth Games and concluded that the software was highly ineffective, leading to the mis-identification of individuals in the majority of cases.
Whilst, like anything else, the technology may improve with time and improved hardware it seems as though we are still some time until we reach that point and so the implementation of such technology in such a mainstream way may be premature.

Data security breaches

We’ve seen recently the massive security data breach that occurred with Optus – one of the country’s and the world’s largest corporations. This led to the personal information of an enormous amount of people being exposed, leading to the need to change driver licences and other identification documents.

If a corporation such as Optus can be vulnerable to such an attack, one must wonder how safely can sensitive data such as facial biometrics be.

Another criticism of the implementation of facial recognition technology is that it is simply the easy and lazy way for the Associations to avoid having to administer the self-imposed bans. This can be done very simply by having a patron’s identification checked when they are playing on a machine.

Alternative solutions

Tasmania recently announced that it would introduce a mandatory gambling card for pokie machines by the end of 2024. This would require all people who are wishing to play a pokie machine to either pre-set their own limit for daily losses, or by default would allow then to only lose $100 per day or $5,000 per year.

Such cards would operate much like a debit bank card will be much easier to monitor for problem gamblers and would also be very effective in combatting money laundering – as there is no cash that is exchanged.

Excessive monitoring

The other major concern with such technology is that it allows organisations and private businesses to enlist similar software themselves without the necessary legal or regulatory oversight and approval.

Essentially, this could be seen to be yet another attack on personal civil liberties and whilst there are no doubt positives that can come as a result of using such technology we have to also stop and think about the potential negatives.

If you’re needing assistance with legal matters or determining your legal rights, Cridland & Hua are the specialists amongst Brisbane Law Firms, practising exclusively in criminal and quasi-criminal law. Contact us today.

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