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Australia's second-biggest appliances chain says it is pausing a trial of facial recognition technology in stores after a consumer group referred it to the privacy regulator for possible enforcement action. In an email on Tuesday, a spokesperson for JB Hi-Fi Ltd said The Good Guys, which JB Hi-Fi owns, would stop trialling a security system with optional facial recognition in two Melbourne outlets. Use of the technology by The Good Guys, owned by JB Hi-Fi Ltd, was "unreasonably intrusive" and potentially in breach of privacy laws, the group, CHOICE, told the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). While the company took confidentiality of personal information seriously and is confident it complied with relevant laws, it decided "to pause the trial … pending any clarification from the OAIC regarding the use of this technology", JB Hi-Fi's spokesperson added. The Good Guys was named in a complaint alongside Bunnings, Australia's biggest home improvement chain, and big box retailer Kmart, both owned by Wesfarmers Ltd, with total annual sales of about 25 billion Australian dollars ($19.47m) across 800 stores.
After Canada, now Australia has found that controversial facial recognition company, Clearview AI, broke national privacy laws when it covertly collected citizens' facial biometrics and incorporated them into its AI-powered identity matching service -- which it sells to law enforcement agencies and others. In a statement today, Australia's information commissioner and privacy commissioner, Angelene Falk, said Clearview AI's facial recognition tool breached the country's Privacy Act 1988 by: In what looks like a major win for privacy down under, the regulator has ordered Clearview to stop collecting facial biometrics and biometric templates from Australians; and to destroy all existing images and templates that it holds. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) undertook a joint investigation into Clearview with the UK data protection agency, the Information Commission's Office (IOC). However the UK regulator has yet to announce any conclusions. In a separate statement today -- which possibly reads slightly flustered -- the ICO said it is "considering its next steps and any formal regulatory action that may be appropriate under the UK data protection laws".
When he was an undercover specialist surveillance photographer with the South Australia Police Force in the 1990s, David Chadwick was responsible for taking photos of suspected criminals and their associates from the backseat of a car, "just like you see in the movies", he said. He would return to the station, print his shots, then make multiple copies of the best quality image that would be distributed to police officers, among dozens of other shots, with hopes of finding out the identity of the individual talking to a known criminal. "I would zoom in, crop, print off 50 copies of that, and I would stick those in the internal dispatch system and I would send them out to every detective agency in the state and say, 'Right, we need to know who this is'," Chadwick told ZDNet. "We had collections of criminal records photos, but they were under'name', and we have no idea who this is. "Then hopefully, at some stage in the next two, three, four, five days we get a response back saying, 'Hey that looks like John Smith'." John Smith could be an old school teacher, a neighbour, or a drug dealer, but once his name was known, Chadwick said that would become a lead and then police work would come into it. Now the director of identity and biometrics for Unisys Asia Pacific, Chadwick would argue the use of biometrics in 2021 is just a faster, and safer, way of performing this task. "What police are doing with facial recognition is exactly what they did without facial recognition," he said. "Most of the time, you don't know if this person has done anything wrong -- if they're coming out of a bank holding a sawed-off shotty and a bag of money, pretty good odds it's a bad guy, but realistically, it returns essentially'I think that's John Smith', then police would do police work." See also: Australia's cops need reminding that chasing criminals isn't society's only need The Australian Human Rights Commission in May asked for a moratorium on the use of biometrics, including facial recognition, in "high-risk" areas, such as in policing and law enforcement, until such time that legislation is in place that guarantees the protection of, among other things, human rights. Chadwick would argue there needs to be education, not a moratorium. He said real-life use of biometrics is not at all like what you see on CSI or NCIS. "I'll hack into the DMV to find a match -- A. you've committed a criminal offence and B. you can't," he said. "It will then flash lots of images on a screen and produce one with flashing text saying'match' underneath.
Facial recognition could be used to replace swipe cards on public transport, the New South Wales government has suggested, but the opposition and digital rights groups say it would pose a risk to privacy. The transport minister, Andrew Constance, said on Tuesday he wanted commuters "in the not too distant future" to be able to board trains using only their faces, with no need for Opal cards, barriers or turnstiles. "I'm about to outline some concepts which may seem pretty crazy and far-fetched," he told the Sydney Institute on Tuesday. "But look at it this way – who would have thought in 1970 that you'd be able to use a handheld device to have a video conversation with someone on the other side of the world? "I want people to not think about their travel.
If you shop at Westfield, you've probably been scanned and recorded by dozens of hidden cameras built into the centres' digital advertising billboards. The semi-camouflaged cameras can determine not only your age and gender but your mood, cueing up tailored advertisements within seconds, thanks to facial detection technology. Westfield's Smartscreen network was developed by the French software firm Quividi back in 2015. Their discreet cameras capture blurry images of shoppers and apply statistical analysis to identify audience demographics. And once the billboards have your attention they hit record, sharing your reaction with advertisers.
The concerns over government facial recognition systems don't just revolve around the possibility of Orwellian control -- it's that they may share that data with others you don't completely trust. Australia is learning this first-hand. The Guardian has obtained documents showing that the country's Attorney General office is talking to telecoms and banks about testing private use of the Facial Verification Service in 2018. Companies would need to get your permission and would have to show that they're honoring Australia's Privacy Act, but they could otherwise use it to fight fraud or otherwise verify the identities of their customers.