New Zealand / Technology

Police 'stocktake' surveillance tech after Clearview AI facial recognition trial

14:33 pm on 18 May 2020

The Police Commissioner has ordered a stocktake of surveillance technologies after police trialed controversial facial recognition software without consulting his office.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has ordered a stocktake of surveillance technologies. Photo: Pool / NZME

Last week, RNZ revealed police conducted hundreds of searches, including for suspects, using American software Clearview AI.

The trial, conducted between February and March, did not have the necessary sign-offs from the Police Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner and the Cabinet.

Police said they do not intend to use Clearview because it was ineffective in New Zealand.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster today said he had ordered a stocktake of any similar software being used.

"I've commissioned a stocktake of any surveillance-type technologies that we may be using or trialing to make sure that there's nothing equivalent [to Clearview]," Coster said.

"Clearly, technology is moving really quickly and it has good and appropriate application in law enforcement. The trick is for us to make sure that we are doing that within the bounds of [the] Privacy Act."

Coster said the trial, which concluded before he assumed his role, was "a very narrow exercise" but given there could be privacy concerns if it was used he said police should have consulted the Privacy Commissioner first.

"We missed that crucial consultation."

Coster also said police had not searched any homes without a warrant under controversial new powers granted by legislation passed by Parliament last week.

The legislation grants police the ability to search premises if they believe Covid-19 epidemic rules are not being followed.

Coster said police needed the powers to take action against things like out-of-control parties.

"Powers do exist for other things like serious offending, drug offending, and also noise control ... but we can't generally enter a property if the occupants have denied entry. So the powers allow us to sort out the outlier event."

He said there had been 30 breaches of alert level 2 restrictions so far, with one prosecution and 29 warnings.

There had been 933 breaches reported, with roughly 700 related to business and 250 related to mass gatherings.