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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.
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.
If you've had a driver's licence photo or passport photo taken in Australia in the past few years, it's likely your face will end up in a massive new national network the federal government is trying to create. Victoria and Tasmania have already begun to upload driver's licence details to state databases that will eventually be linked to a future national one. Legislation before federal parliament will allow government agencies and private businesses to access facial IDs held by state and territory traffic authorities, and passport photos held by the foreign affairs department. The justification for what would be the most significant compulsory collection of personal data since My Health Record is cracking down on identity fraud. The home affairs department estimates that the annual cost of ID fraud is $2.2bn, and says introducing a facial component to the government's document verification service would help prevent it.
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.