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Facial recognition software trials in Queensland alarm privacy advocates

ABC News logo ABC News 8/03/2017 Annie Guest

The new software analyses CCTV images from existing cameras in the area. © ABC News/Jordan Hayne The new software analyses CCTV images from existing cameras in the area. A facial recognition technology trial is underway in Queensland, alarming privacy advocates who fear such developments could lead to bigger databanks of stored personal information.

The Toowoomba Regional Council has begun trialling the software called iOmniscient on behalf of the Brisbane, Gold Coast and other councils.

iOmniscient works by analysing images recorded by existing CCTV cameras.

A rollout of similar software has been supported by the Federal Government for passport processing in Australia, and the Northern Territory police are already using something similar.

Monique Mann, a law lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology and member of the Australian Privacy Foundation, said the Toowoomba Council's decision was alarming.

She said that facial technology introduction at a federal level was being established in a way that would not require "standard police powers for the introduction of specific budget legislation".

"What we see here is that these developments are really being introduced to administrative processes outside of a legislative framework and the increased scrutiny that it entails," Dr Mann said.

Dr Mann said she was "particularly concerned" from a privacy perspective, because the facial recognition technology could be used from a distance.

"It can be integrated with existing surveillance systems as we're seeing with CCTV-enabled tracking through public faces," she said.

"And it can also be integrated with other big data that's used for law enforcement and security purposes — so for example images that can be taken from social media websites."

Despite the Federal Government's enthusiasm over the use of the new technologies, Dr Mann said that the recent Census and Centrelink robo-debt data sagas highlighted widespread privacy concerns in the community.

Trial is to 'improve service delivery'

Toowoomba Paul Antonio said the software was not an invasion of privacy.

"It is attached to a data system that will tell us the number of people coming and going to the library, and the number of times they have actually come and gone in a given day," he said.

"What it actually does is it analyses the existing CCTV footage that we've had here in this region for quite some time."

Mr Antonio said its trial use in the library was about "improving service delivery".

"This is an experiment that will last for one month," he said.

"When the technology is proven, what it's used for in the future is up to anyone who wants to use it."

Mr Antonio said the Toowoomba Council had not discussed whether they would use the facial recognition software for safety on the streets.

But it is believed that the council could be the first to use such technology.

This comes after Queensland's Moreton Bay Regional Council was recently criticised when it announced it had deployed about 330 new surveillance devices in public spaces.

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