17 Oct 2020

Minister not briefed on police facial recognition move, office says

12:40 pm on 17 October 2020

Police did not brief the Police Minister or seek his approval for their move to set up a powerful new facial recognition and image handling system, the minister's office says.

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File photo. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

Police expect to capture tens of thousands of images a year with the new biometrics system, and for that to expand substantially.

The Police Minister's office told RNZ there had been no briefings or communications from police about it with the Minister or Cabinet since the start of 2019.

It said there was no record of any approvals being sought from the Minister or Cabinet.

Police have just adopted new policy around adopting such technologies, but this still gives little or no scope for compulsory outside scrutiny.

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.

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

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