Friday, October 01, 2021

Facial recognition and secrecy

Stuff this morning has a detailed story about a trial of facial recognition technology at Wellington airport which went ahead despite being rejected by the Privacy Commissioner. As the details make clear, the trial was basicly spying for convenience:

Aviation Security went ahead with the trial of a new facial-recognition scanning tool at Wellington Airport, despite serious concerns from the Privacy Commissioner.

The secretive months-long trial, which is still ongoing, used cameras to scan the faces of passengers when they entered the queue for airport security and again when they went through the boarding gate.


Aviation Security (Avsec) started the trial in February 2021 as a way to count how many passengers were passing through security and how long they were spending in line, after Audit NZ found their manual process inadequate.

After the Privacy Commissioner argued strongly against the trial, AvSec sought separate legal advice on whether it breached privacy law, and followed that advice instead of the Commissioner's.

Yes, they were using facial recognition because they were simply too lazy to count people as they went through the gate.

The kicker: under the second secrecy clause in Labour's Civil Aviation Bill (currently before select committee) everything about this trial would have been secret. Why? Because the secrecy clause forbids disclosure of any information obtained when exercising "any function, duty, or power under civil aviation legislation". Not just sensitive information, not just information where there is "good reason" to withhold it, but any information. Effectively they will have their own little Official Secrets Act inserted in a clause at the end of their own bill, giving them total secrecy over everything they do. Their "justification" is that NZTA has one already, and they couldn't possibly be any less important then them.

As I noted above, this bill is currently before select committee. If you care about openness in this country, if you care about being able to hold government agencies to account, if you care about just being able to know what the government is doing in our name, I urge you to submit against it (and while you're doing that, make sure to oppose the other secrecy clause as well).