Government’s forced rollout of facial recognition for home quarantine needs strict limits and protections

Discussion Paper
by Jordan Guiao

As states around Australia plan for life after lockdown, home quarantine is being hailed as a potentially significant part of our pandemic management infrastructure.

In order for home quarantine to work, governments need the ability to monitor individuals and prove that they are complying with the quarantine.

The South Australian and Western Australian governments have used a combination of facial recognition and global positioning system (GPS) technology to police these individuals. NSW and Victoria have also announced trials using the same technology.

Facial recognition is of particular concern, with the technology proving to have systemic weaknesses and limitations, including errors in identifying female faces and people of colour, and risks of privacy and ethical abuses.

The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology does not support the use of facial recognition technology for home quarantine and general pandemic monitoring.

If governments insist on using this technology, we call on them to develop strict limits and protections for its use. We recommend that, at a minimum, the following be developed as part of the rollout of facial recognition technology:

  1. Constrain facial recognition to a single use with strict limits – for home quarantine purposes and nothing else, using only ‘one-to-one’ verification, with data expiry on image captures and proper consent obtained from the public.
  2. Update State privacy legislation in line with the federal Privacy Act which lists facial recognition and biometric information as sensitive information requiring privacy protections.
  3. Develop strong human rights protections in law to guard against misuse of facial recognition and biometric technology, regulating future uses of facial recognition technology.
  4. Establish an Artificial Intelligence ethics advisory group of academics, civil society and industry to properly scrutinise the effects and implications of biometric technology like facial recognition given the increased interest in and use of this technology.

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