19 August 2022

How should biometric information gathering be regulated?

The Privacy Commissioner is seeking the public’s views on biometrics, such as retinal scans or facial recognition software.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) is looking into what regulation might be needed around biometric information gathering, such as facial recognition cameras.

Biometrics involves using individual characteristics such as retinal scans or facial recognition software to identify people. Some programmes can even identify a person by the way they walk.

Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster said that while biometric technologies can have major benefits, including convenience, efficiency and security, “they can also create significant risks – including risks relating to surveillance and profiling, lack of transparency and control, and accuracy, bias and discrimination”.

A retailer might want to use facial recognition technology (FRT) to identify a known shoplifter before they steal again, or to help them to seek prosecution. But in doing so, they may be compromising the privacy of law-abiding citizens who may have no intention of committing a criminal act.

This comes as several large retailers have begun using facial recognition technology in Australia, with an investigation by Consumer’s Australian counterpart Choice resulting in Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys pausing their use of the technology in response to consumer backlash.

The OPC wants to hear from New Zealanders on its use in Aotearoa and has released a consultation paper. It wants New Zealanders to share their views on biometric data collection in order to shape future legislation.

The OPC consultation describes an increasing and diversifying use of biometric technologies in New Zealand and overseas. It also points to a growing level of concern around the adequacy of current regulations, with particular concern around the regulation of facial recognition technology.

The OPC said other countries with which we commonly compare ourselves have tighter controls around biometrics. New Zealand needs to remain broadly in line with comparable jurisdictions so that we maintain our global privacy and human rights reputation. Compatible privacy rules are also important in facilitating international trade.

Further concerns surround the relationship between FRT and ethnicity, with significant issues in relation to bias and profiling, accuracy and the collection and use of images that could include moko.

If you would like to make a submission, you can send answers to the questions outlined in the consultation paper to biometrics@privacy.org.nz by Friday, 30 September 2022.

Biometric opc

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