Facial Recognition for Home Quarantine is a Recipe for Privacy Disaster

State governments trialling home quarantine need to take active steps to ensure they are not crossing a new frontier in the surveillance of citizens by using Facial Recognition Technology, warns the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

This follows reports that in several states police have accessed COVID check-in data to undertake routine law enforcement activities. The privacy breaches from check-in apps already show that state governments must regain the public’s trust before trialling even more complex surveillance technologies, like facial recognition.

With South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria conducting trials of home quarantine apps using facial recognition, and Western Australia already doing it, new research by the Centre for Responsible Technology shows strict limits and controls are needed to protect the public.

A new report from the Centre for Responsible Technology highlights several issues with using facial recognition technology, including:

  • Systemic biases against women and minorities
  • Lack of transparency
  • Making surveillance an acceptable activity

The Centre for Responsible Technology recommends that if governments insist on using facial recognition, then they should at a minimum:

  • Constrain facial recognition to a single-use with strict limits, including data expiry and proper consent
  • Update state privacy legislation to cover facial recognition as protected information, in line with the Federal Privacy Act
  • Develop strong human rights protections in law, to guard against abuses
  • Establish an Artificial Intelligence ethics advisory board, to properly scrutinise the effects of facial recognition technology ongoing

“It is important to learn the lessons of recent history and not allow moments of global crisis, like the pandemic, to reshape the way surveillance technology is used,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Centre for Responsible Technology.

“Twenty years ago, the world responded to 9/11 and the threat of terror by forcing technology companies to access the search history of their users, something that had never been contemplated before.

“Once this increased degree of surveillance as normalised, it was adopted by corporations like Google and Facebook to track users and to target ads, and by governments around the world to control their citizens.

“While it is important to get quarantine models right, the idea that facial recognition technology should be the primary monitoring tool for home quarantine should be treated with real skepticism.

“At the very least, the onus should be on the government to build in robust safeguards, that recognize the deficiencies in facial recognition technology and risks to public privacy, in the models they implement.”

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