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Facial matching system is racist, Human Rights Law Centre warns

Ns News Online DeskNs News Online Desk: Facial matching technology proposed by the government is racist and would have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of assembly without further safeguards, the Human Rights Law Centre has said.

The warning is contained in a submission to a parliamentary committee inquiry examining the Coalition’s proposal for the home affairs department to collect, use and disclose facial identification information. The facial matching system was agreed to in principle by states in October, but has since led to overreach warnings from Victoria and the Law Council of Australia. Concerned parties have warned the Coalition’s identity matching services bill allows access to facial verification data by the private sector and local governments, and that it could be used to prosecute low-level crimes.

In a submission to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, lodged on Tuesday, the Human Rights Law Center warned the bill was “manifestly and dangerously insufficient” and the system was “high risk” because the bill failed to adequately identify or regulate the uses of facial matching technology.The center submitted that both false positive and false negative results for facial recognition “are likely to arise disproportionately in relation to people who belong to ethnic minorities in Australia”.It cited studies that found facial recognition had “a bias towards the dominant ethnic group in the area in which it is developed”.

The HRLC noted the NEC Neoface technology, used by federal agencies and several Australian states, had been validated as the best in the industry by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. But the center warned the technology “has not been tested for accuracy based on demographics”, and therefore overall accuracy rates may obscure disproportionately high rates of misidentification of ethnic minorities.

The center warned that false positives could subject suspects to investigation, surveillance and denial of employment, and misidentification would erode trust in law enforcement and security agencies. It recommended annual accuracy testing, including demographic tests. The use of facial recognition technologies also posed “a significant threat to freedoms of expression, association and assembly”, the submission said.

It said facial recognition “risks transforming the public space into a sphere where each person can be monitored and identified”, which is “particularly concerning in the context of civic gatherings, demonstrations and protests”. The HRLC said the use of facial recognition could discourage people from exercising their right to assembly, because even citizens who had done nothing wrong might not want police to know they had attended politically sensitive gatherings such as protests against police violence or Aboriginal deaths in custody.

It said “politically motivated surveillance” might not be a “likely near-term consequence” of the bill, but it “must be guarded against in the design of this system”. It said the bill should not pass without safeguards to protect freedom of expression. Earlier this month the Victorian government threatened to pull out of the facial matching system, arguing it had agreed the private sector should not be given access to facial verification systems, but the bill did not contain that restriction.

The Law Council of Australia has warned that facial recognition could lead to a full “social credit” system of government surveillance, and called for safeguards to prevent “illegitimate and disproportionate uses” of the technology.At a hearing on 3 May the home affairs department fought against proposed restrictions on the system, rejecting calls for warrants and a threshold for serious offenses that justify use of the technology.

Maria Fernandez, the department’s deputy secretary of intelligence and capability, said facial recognition would be for the use of law enforcement agencies “whose sole purpose is to protect and keep citizens safe”. In its own written submission, the department has said the systems could be used for “improving road safety through the detection and prosecution of traffic offenses”.

The HRLC submitted that dragnet facial recognition should only be used for investigation of “serious criminal offenses”.

Any real-time surveillance capability should be set out in the primary legislation to allow for a “full assessment of whether its use is justified and safeguards are sufficient” .The home affairs department has submitted that privacy laws and existing restrictions on agencies’ informatioAdd Newn sharing would continue to apply.

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