Police secrecy questioned

There are many unanswered questions about news the police have been quietly setting up a facial recognition system which could take a live feed from closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras.

The aim of it, presumably, would be to aid in the identification of people who may have committed crimes.

Answers provided to questions from journalists about the extent of what might be involved have been inconsistent and confusing.

It seems the police, which have spent $9 million on this, according to RNZ reporting, did not consider it necessary to tell the public or carry out a Privacy Impact Assessment, and nor did they tell the Privacy Commissioner, shrugging it off as merely upgrading their existing system.

The police's lack of proper direction on such issues was illustrated in May when it was revealed they had conducted some sort of ad hoc trial earlier in the year using controversial facial recognition technology Clearview Al without necessary approval from the Police Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner or the Cabinet.

It appears they are now attempting to make amends for the lack of communication over the ‘‘upgrade'' with the Privacy Commissioner and have made noises about hoping to develop better governance, engagement, and public transparency over their use of new technology.

As the Privacy Commissioner has stated : ‘‘Any organisation or business using facial recognition technology needs to undertake a high level of scrutiny over how accurate it is and how thoroughly it has been tested for use in New Zealand''.

The accuracy of such systems has been highly controversial in the United States, with concerns they contribute to systemic racism within law enforcement as their algorithms are shown to be considerably less accurate for non-white faces. Given that concerns about racial profiling are not unknown here already, we would expect rigorous scrutiny of this aspect of any system.

At this point we have not been given information about the accuracy of the algorithms involved in the system upgrade, to be run by a non-police contractor in the United States — Datawork Plus. It is expected to collect 15,000 facial images a year with the ability to increase that 10-fold.

It is not good enough that the police are not among the 25 agencies which have signed up to the Government's Algorithm charter for Aotearoa New Zealand, designed to give New Zealanders confidence that data was being used safely and effectively in government agencies.

The Government's data website says the charter is one of many ways that Government demonstrates transparency and accountability in the use of data.

There seems to have been precious little transparency over this to date and it is not clear from what has been reported so far, what, if any, independent oversight and monitoring of the system we might expect.

The public deserves better.

And another thing

Otago people who played a part in the push to have the late Peter Ellis' case re-examined will have been buoyed by the news this week that his appeal against his remaining 13 sexual offence convictions will proceed.

Last year, shortly before Mr Ellis died, the Supreme Court granted him the right to appeal those convictions. A University of Otago team was at the forefront of that, including vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne and former law school dean Mark Henaghan, who built on the research of Dunedin author Dr Lynley Hood, and work done by Mr Ellis's former lawyer , Judith Ablett-Kerr QC.

The decision by the Supreme Court to allow the appeal to go ahead has been described as precedent-setting, as usually the death of the appellant would be the end of the matter. The reasons for the decision will not be divulged until the appeal is heard which is expected to be next year.


This is not acceptable. Every person involved in this exercise needs to lose their job to start with. There is no place in the police force for people who think that they are above the law.
The fact that they undertook this program without government authorisation is corrupt.
I worked in pubs in Dunedin in the 80's, don't tell me there is no corruption in the NZ Police, I experienced it.

Anyone who thinks that this happened without government knowledge, is naive.
And that includes our 'Single source of truth' in the present 'most open and transparent' government.....

"Anyone who thinks that this happened without government knowledge, is naive."
Tell me why this statement isn't just vacuous waffling? I am certainly not naive, and I actually trust the government more than I trust the police. I do not completely trust government, but I don't trust the police at all because they have proved themselves to not be trustworthy. Yes there are good cops, but as soon as a good cop doesn't act when they see a corrupt cop, they stop being a good cop.






Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter