New rules for police use of innovative technology

2:26 pm on 30 September 2020

Police have adopted a new policy for the use of state-of-the art technology, such as facial recognition and artificial intelligence software.

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It comes after police trialled facial recognition software in May without consulting the police commissioner's office, the privacy commissioner and the Cabinet (File image). Photo: 123RF

It outlines what steps are required before new tech can be trialed or introduced - or extra capability added to existing technology.

"'Emergent technologies' is an umbrella term covering both 'new tech' capabilities such as customer support apps, through to more established technologies which allow for images to be captured, such as CCTV," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said.

"It also encompasses the use of tools such as algorithms and artificial intelligence," Coster said.

He said new technology could raise privacy, security and ethical concerns which must be carefully weighed.

The policy documents state that from time to time staff are approached to test new tech or extra functionality on existing technology, but these offers need to be "appropriately scrutinised".

They state it is important there be senior-level oversight and the opportunity to pre-brief stakeholders such as the privacy commissioner.

Formal approval must be sought from the police's Security and Privacy Reference Group and endorsed by the Organisational Capability Governance Group.

The documents state any testing or trialling of tech that has not been approved and endorsed by these groups will be considered unauthorised.

In May, Coster ordered a stocktake of surveillance technologies after police trialled facial recognition software without consulting his office, the privacy commissioner and the Cabinet.

The policy documents state that the public give police social licence to do their work, and concern about "overly-wide" access to certain technologies and lack of clarity about how decisions are made can undermine public trust.

Being clearer about how police use new tech can help dispel any "unfounded concerns".

Coster said police had also signed up to a charter for public agencies which guides the use of algorithms.

"Like other emergent technologies, algorithms can play an important role in enabling the work of agencies, however New Zealanders need to have trust and confidence they are being used safely and responsibly," Coster said.

He said police would also assemble a panel of experts to review its use of new technology.

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