Why we need to talk about facial recognition


Major Australian retailers are already using artificial intelligence (AI) based facial recognition technology and there is increasing use of this tech by retailers in New Zealand as well, but are our privacy laws ready?

A just released report by Choice magazine in Australia has found three major retailers, Kmart, The Good Guys and Bunnings have the technology in their stores to monitor customers for loss prevention.

NZTech Chief Executive Graeme Muller says it reinforces why it is important for New Zealand to get on with developing a national strategy for AI.

“The tech is evolving so fast that we can’t delay the important debates required to establish where the Kiwi public stands with things like facial recognition, automated machines and AI assisted decision making.

“According to Consumer magazine facial recognition systems have used for some time into casinos, airports and some of New Zealand’s biggest retailers such as Noel Leeming and The Warehouse.

“Shops have signs at the door telling customers that cameras are operating. We just don’t know if they are collecting biometric data such as physical appearance, facial characteristics, eyes and voice, purportedly for safety and security purposes, such as detecting thieves.”

Madeline Newman, executive director of the AI Forum of New Zealand, says that current laws and the Privacy Commissioner agree facial recognition can be used but you have to be careful.

“Facial recognition technology takes pictures and uses an algorithm to match an image of a person’s face to one already stored in a system.

“At the airport the eGate snaps photos to compare with the image in the ePassport to verify identity.

“The RealMe electronic identity tool managed by the Department of Internal Affairs, uses facial recognition to verify identity to apply for a passport or driver’s licence.

“We expect that facial recognition and a national AI strategy will be key topics at the annual Aotearoa AI summit in Auckland on September 12.

“There are some really innovative companies creating technologies using facial recognition that make our lives safer and more productive, we just have to make sure that the way the technology is used lines up with our societies expectations around privacy.”