Victoria uploads data for national facial recognition system


Victoria will begin uploading driver’s licence photographs to the federal government National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution (NDLFRS).

The NDLFRS is operated by the federal Department of Home Affairs.

The Victorian government’s announcement today marks a significant step towards the full launch of a national Australian facial recognition system, although for now use of the images will be restricted to state agencies.

VicRoads and Victoria Police will use the system to unearth duplicate IDs and fraud, the state government said.

The government said agencies in other states and territories and federal entities will be unable to access the Victorian images until it is satisfied with federal enabling legislation for the system, which will facilitate a number of facial identification and facial verification services.

The relevant legislation is currently being examined by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).

The Commonwealth bill outlines five identity-matching services, including face verification, face identification, the One Person One Licence Service (to identify individuals that hold multiple licences), a utility service to assess the accuracy and quality of facial data holdings, and a service for securely sharing biometric identity information between government agencies.

Although Victoria is a party to the October 2017 Council of Australian Governments agreement to establish the new system, the state government has indicated some qualms with the proposed federal legislation.

“This technology will help keep government agencies ahead of the pack when it comes to combating identity fraud, which is one of the most common and costly crimes facing our state,” Gavin Jennings, Victoria’s special minister of state, said in a statement released today.

“We are doing this as part of a national agreement, while ensuring the privacy of Victorians is not compromised.”

“This will make it harder for people to conceal their true identities and use multiple licences to avoid traffic fines, demerit points or licence cancellations,” said Victoria’s roads minister Jaala Pulford.

“This will greatly assist in removing unauthorised and dangerous drivers from our roads.”

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Tags privacybiometricsfacial recognitionThe Capability




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Facial recognition in schools leads to Sweden’s first GDPR fine



The Swedish Data Protection Authority (DPA) has served a municipality in northern Sweden the country’s first GDPR fine — amounting to almost €19,000 (200,000 SEK) — for using facial recognition technology to monitor the attendance of students in school.

The high school in Skellefteå conducted a pilot program last fall where the attendance of 22 students over a period of three weeks was taken with the help of facial recognition technology, instead of good ol’ fashioned roll call, according to Computer Sweden.

Not so surprisingly, the Swedish DPA found that the program violated several GDPR articles — the EU’s new robust privacy regulation. The school failed to consult the Swedish DPA before launching its program and didn’t do a proper impact assessment.

This is an incredibly serious offense as the school unlawfully processed sensitive biometric data on its students, but it seems to have gotten off ‘lightly’ considering the maximum fine could amount to almost €1 million.

The school maintains it had its students’ consent, but the DPA found there was no valid legal basis for this as there’s a “clear imbalance between the data subject and the controller.”

While the Swedish DPA’s ruling is not big compared to other GDPR fines, it’s a clear marker that GDPR enforcement is picking up across the continent — as was expected in 2019. It’s also an example of Europeans waking up to the woes that might come with increased facial recognition technology, and the EU is reportedly looking into ways to imposing stricter limits on it than it already is under GDPR.


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Amazon says its facial recognition tech can now detect fear



Amazon has announced that its facial recognition system can now detect “fear” in people.

Dubbed Rekognition, the software offers a comprehensive range of tools for face detection, analysis, and recognition in images and videos. It’s one among several services it offers to developers as part of its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud infrastructure.

“We have improved accuracy for emotion detection — for all seven emotions: ‘Happy,’ ‘Sad,’ ‘Angry,’ ‘Surprised,’ ‘Disgusted,’ ‘Calm,’ and ‘Confused’ — and added a new emotion: ‘Fear,’” the company said.

While fear could be leveraged for practical security uses, reading a person’s emotions by their facial features risks mistakenly branding innocents as criminals, not to mention the potential for discriminatory and racial biases. After all, a machine learning software can only be as good as the data it learns from.

Among other accuracy and functionality enhancements, the retail giant has made updates to its facial analysis tool and improved the accuracy of identifying genders.

It’s to be noted that Amazon updated the software last week to be able to detect violent content such as blood, wounds, weapons, self-injury, corpses, as well as sexually explicit content.

The development comes as facial recognition tech has been the subject of a growing debate among civil liberty groups and lawmakers, who have raised concerns related to false matches and arrests while balancing the need for public safety.

Amazon’s AI-powered facial recognition technology may be constantly developing new smarts, but has also come under criticism for falsely matching 28 members of Congress as people who have been arrested for a crime last month.

Recently, Vice reported how Ring, Amazon’s home surveillance company, is coaching law enforcement on different means to convince residents to share camera footage with them without a warrant.

Rekognition has attracted further scrutiny owing to its use by law enforcement agencies in the US, which have led to some police departments worry that its usage would pose surveillance concerns.

“Even though our software is being used to identify persons of interest from images provided to the [sheriff’s office], the perception might be that we are constantly checking faces from everything, kind of a Big Brother vibe,” per emails from Oregon police officials.

Amazon, for its part, hasn’t acknowledged whether it has partnered with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to use the software. But it did pitch its tech, according to emails obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), triggering massive backlash from human rights advocates and its own employees.

ACLU has also warned the technology is ripe for abuse, while urging Amazon to stop selling the technology to governments.

Whether or not the intended goal is mass surveillance, Amazon has deflected any concerns the technology is inherently privacy invasive. Reiterating the utility of such AI-based tools in the real world, it has said, “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”


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Amazon’s facial recognition mistakenly labels 26 California lawmakers as criminals



As government agencies continue to push for the deployment of facial recognition systems, you needn’t look far to see why that’s bad news. To illustrate the point, the ACLU conducted a test of Amazon’s Rekognition software — facial recognition tech currently being used by US law enforcement — in which it incorrectly identified 26 California lawmakers as matches in a criminal database.

We’ll pause while you chuckle at the “politicians are criminals” jokes running through your head.

It’s the second time the ACLU has run this type of test. In the first, a test conducted last year, Rekognition was wildly inaccurate, churning out incorrect and racially biased results when attempting to match members of Congress.

Detailed today, the latest ACLU test ran 120 images of California lawmakers against a database of 25,000 mugshots. Amazon’s Rekognition software produced false positives about 20 percent of the time.

Phil Ting, a San Francisco Assembly Member, and one of the incorrect matches, used the results to drum up support for a bill that would ban use of the technology in police body cameras. “We wanted to run this as a demonstration about how this software is absolutely not ready for prime time,” Ting said during a press conference. “While we can laugh about it as legislators, it’s no laughing matter for an individual trying to get a job, if you are an individual trying to get a home.”

An Amazon spokesperson told TNW:

The ACLU is once again knowingly misusing and misrepresenting Amazon Rekognition to make headlines. As we’ve said many times in the past, when used with the recommended 99% confidence threshold and as one part of a human-driven decision, facial recognition technology can be used for a long list of beneficial purposes, from assisting in the identification of criminals to helping find missing children to inhibiting human trafficking. We continue to advocate for federal legislation of facial recognition technology to ensure responsible use, and we’ve shared our specific suggestions for this both privately with policy makers and on our blog.

ACLU attorney Matt Cagle, who worked with UC Berkeley to independently verify the results argued against the criticism. In a comment to Gizmodo, Cagle said that the ACLU didn’t use a 99 percent confidence threshold because it stuck with the default settings in Amazon’s software — which is an 80 percent confidence score.

Amazon refuted the claim, pointing to a blog post in which it notes that Rekognition should not be used with less than a 99 percent confidence level. Of course, this only leads to more questions. Specifically, why isn’t 99 percent the software’s default setting?


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Facebook might be fined billions after losing facial recognition lawsuit



Facebook — inarguably the world’s largest facial database — has a lost a federal appeal in a class-action lawsuit that claimed it illegally collected and stored biometric data of millions of users without their consent.

The lawsuit began in 2015 when Illinois-based Facebook users sued the company for violating the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which mandates that companies develop a public “written policy” before such data is collected and stored, and establish a retention schedule after which the said biometric identifiers will be destroyed.

Facebook’s contravention stems from its “Tag Suggestions” feature that lets you automatically tag your friends in photos uploaded to the service.

The technology analyzes the details of people’s faces in the photos — the distance between their eyes, their nose, and other features — to create a face template that can be used to identify them in other photos.

The plaintiffs argued the company’s facial recognition feature failed to meet the requirements of the law.

In a 3-0 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco — which has jurisdiction over Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park — unanimously rejected the company’s appeal to rescind the class-action lawsuit.

“We conclude that the development of face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests,” the court ruled in its decision.

Privacy advocates have long expressed concerns that facial recognition systems could be exploited for mass surveillance. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said “the decision is a major win for privacy rights, and recognizes the dangers posed by the increased use of face recognition technology.”

Now that the case can move forward, this could potentially cost the social media giant billions of dollars in damages if it loses. Reuters notes the lawsuit “could include 7 million Facebook users.”

Under BIPA, each user affected by Facebook’s unlawful biometric collection could be entitled to damages of $1,000 for each negligent violation and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation.

With big technology companies already scrutiny from regulators around the world over their data collection practices, the timing couldn’t be worse for the social network, which agreed to pay a record $5 billion fine to settle a Federal Trade Commission data privacy probe.




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