Checking out identity check

Proceed cautiously. Do no harm. Ensure people understand why and what you are doing and are OK with it. These are just a few basic rules which might apply to an organisation wanting to introduce biometric technology including such things as facial recognition or voice analysis into their business.

We might expect government planning for such things would be thorough and considered.

It is hard to accept what has happened with the Identity Check system so far comes close to that.

The communication around Identity Check has been such we would not be surprised if many people have never heard of it.

What it is supposed to be is the safe and secure online identity verification service, developed by Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs to make it easier for New Zealanders to securely access services they need and protect them from fraud and identity theft.

Over time it is expected to become the primary way we verify who we are online, in public and private settings.

A pilot of it started last year with Hospitality New Zealand for people applying for its Kiwi Access Card, but it turned out the facial recognition technology only worked 55% of the time. (The process involves applicants taking a digital photo with their phone or computer which could be then compared against a driver’s licence or passport photo.) Since then, upgrades of the tool have meant it now has a success rate of over 90%.

The Ministry of Social Development is due to offer Identity Check to new clients from November 20 although beneficiaries can still choose to verify their identity using existing methods.

A major concern is that officials admit they have been using facial recognition for passports and digital citizenship services but without knowing if it distorts results for Māori.

This, despite there having been a plethora of information internationally for years about such technology being less accurate at identifying faces which were not white.

Also, in statements to RNZ the DIA had repeatedly said public trust was its priority and that it had engaged properly with Māori.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
But it had not. It has plans for this now, but the matter does not seem to be being treated with any urgency.

The cost of sorting out Identity Check’s problems is not known, nor how it might be affected by expected government department spending cuts.

As we have said before, little is known about how comfortable and well informed the New Zealand public is about digital developments.

A lackadaisical approach to their introduction will only fuel distrust.

We are still awaiting the outcome of the Privacy Commissioner’s recent consultation on rules about biometric information and whether there is a need for a specific code of practice for it.

Such a code could change how the principles in the Privacy Act apply when organisations are using technology to analyse biometric information such as a person’s face, fingerprints, voice, or how they walk.

The commissioner wants to protect people against misuse of their biometric information, while allowing government and business to use biometric information safely, if they have good reasons to do so.

And another thing…

Before the first cruise ship arrived this week, the Otago Regional Council was keen to trumpet its supposed solution to the mayhem caused by cruise passengers monopolising buses to Port Chalmers last cruise season rather than use more expensive buses organised for them.

Knowing this was a contentious issue, it beggars belief nobody at the ORC double or triple-checked at peak time to ensure contractors they were on the job with extra buses on Monday after tourists flooded into the city.

At a time when as many residents as possible should be encouraged to become regular users of public transport, the ORC needs to lift its game and grasp its priority must be providing a reliable service for residents.

If it is incapable of getting it right during the cruise ship season, perhaps the more or less empty buses organised by the cruise operators could follow along behind the bursting-at-the- seams ORC buses and pick up stranded residents, for free.