Privacy Commissioner would be 'very worried' if Auckland Transport introduces facial recognition technology in cameras

The Privacy Commissioner would have concerns if Auckland Transport (AT) decided to use facial recognition technology in its CCTV system.

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John Edwards told Breakfast he hadn’t been consulted about the “potentially intrusive technology”. Source: Breakfast

Authorities in Auckland are in the process of putting a plan in place to combine the city's CCTV cameras into a single system, while also adding potentially thousands of new cameras with advanced automatic processing capabilities.

"Any new cameras installed in Auckland will have automated processing abilities, including facial recognition," RNZ reports.

Auckland Transport says it has no plans to use facial recognition technology, however. 

"We have done no trials and have no plans to," spokesperson Mark Hannan said. 

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards told TVNZ 1's Breakfast today it is understandable AT wants to "improve public safety" but he said he'd be "very worried" if Auckland Transport were to introduce facial recognition technology.

"We hadn't been consulted about that.  That's a very significant and potentially intrusive technology that's not proven and that is causing quite a lot of concern in a lot of places in the world," he says.

"It's the sense that you're being observed everywhere is disquieting, it affects our state of mind whether we are doing something wrong or not."

Mr Edwards said his office was not aware of AT's plan until being approached by a journalist from RNZ.  

He said it "has no obligation" to approach the Privacy Commissioner's office but suggests it might be appropriate to come for advice if it's considering installing facial recognition.

Mr Edwards told Breakfast he has no concerns about an increase in cameras as they are handy to "look online to see whether your route home is clogged... ... and if you're car has been stolen it's easy for police to track it down."

"They're really helpful applications, but the idea that someone could be tracking your movements across town with license plate recognition.. it needs a little bit more thought and oversight than that."

Yesterday AT group manager of technology solutions Chris Creighton told RNZ: "And we are gradually increasing the number of cameras. And we're also bringing cameras in from other agencies."

"We've publicised that we're using CCTV. We publicise we use it for safety and security. I think there's already public knowledge around our use of CCTV."