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Police researching facial recognition technology

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Police is stepping up its ongoing commitment to understanding technology and its privacy, ethical, and human rights implications.

“Facial recognition technology is a subject that draws strong interest, and sometimes distrust and controversy,” says deputy chief executive Mark Evans. “Police recognises that and is seeking information and advice from independent experts.”

Dr Nessa Lynch, an associate professor at Victoria University of Wellington and Dr Andrew Chen, a research fellow at the University of Auckland, are two of New Zealand’s leading experts and academic researchers in the field of facial recognition technology.

“Public interest, and Police’s organisational understanding, will benefit from being informed by experts in the field, and research examining the issues with a New Zealand policing perspective,” says Mark.

“We police by consent and strive to deliver the service New Zealanders expect and deserve. With that in mind, we have sought expert thinking on facial recognition technology to help ensure the safety and security of communities is at the forefront of our thinking and decision making in this space.

“Over the next six months Dr Lynch and Dr Chen will explore the current and possible future uses of facial recognition technology and what it means for policing in New Zealand communities.”

The scope of their work will include:

• defining facial recognition technology

• categorising the spectrum of use and its potential effect on individual and collective rights and interests

• exploring what Police currently does in this space, and what planned and unused capability exists within the organisation

• providing insights and evidence into international practice and operational advantages for public safety and crime control, as well as Treaty of Waitangi, ethics, privacy and human rights implications

• producing a paper with advice and recommendations on the safe and appropriate use of facial recognition technology in New Zealand policing.

“The pace of technological change has outstripped law and regulation,” says Nessa. “We welcome the opportunity to provide independent advice to assist New Zealand Police to develop and strengthen their policies for legal and ethical use of this technology.”

Both experts say facial recognition technology has benefits and risks for collective and individual rights and interests.

"We are interested in digging deeper to find out how Police are using facial recognition technologies today, and how they can consider the use of new tools in the future,” says Andrew. “There is often a perception of a trade-off between public safety and privacy – we hope to find a path forward that supports both of these values at the same time.”

"We are interested in digging deeper to find out how Police are using facial recognition technologies today, and how they can consider the use of new tools in the future. There is often a perception of a trade-off between public safety and privacy – we hope to find a path forward that supports both of these values at the same time,” he concludes.

Police anticipates publishing the final paper once it has been reviewed internally, including by the newly established Expert Panel on Emergent Technologies.

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