AI wants to tag you in a crime

A few months ago, you may have seen news stories and online articles about the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies around the world. The facial recognition technology in question is a product of a company called Clearview AI, which was founded by Australian Hoan Ton-That.

The technology is used to ascertain the identity of suspects, and people who have committed crimes through the use of facial recognition applied to CCTV footage, photographs and other visual images of people captured committing crimes, or in the vicinity of where a certain crime took place.

The technology operates in the same way that Facebook recognises your face and asks whether you would like to tag yourself in a photo a friend has posted. Soon, it may be law enforcement that recognises your face and asks you to admit to them that it is indeed you in the photo before asking you to admit to having committed a crime.

The technology has far-reaching consequences, not only for people who are suspected of having committed crimes but potential witnesses or victims of crime. The use of the technology will no doubt have significant benefit to law enforcement agencies. It will almost certainly reduce the time, resources and costs expended in ascertaining the identity of a person captured in an image and may increase the number of crimes that can be solved.

For the broader justice system, there may be an increase in the number of charges laid and matters that progress through the courts. The strength of the identification evidence (including how reliable it is) will likely dictate whether the accused person pleads guilty, or not guilty to the charges. If the technology along with the rest of the prosecution operates to create a strong or overwhelming case, the likelihood of the accused person pleading guilty, or being found guilty will increase.

Sounds good right? But at what cost? Academics, Privacy Commissioners and those interested in safeguarding the rights of citizens have been quick to point out the significant infringement that this technology will have on a person’s right to privacy and the implications for the collection of personal data, including a person’s image or biometrics. Several experts have called for regulatory and/or legislative intervention to govern the use of facial recognition technology and protect these rights.

Clearview AI is said to have been utilised by over 600 police departments worldwide, scanning millions of online images to gather biometric and facial recognition data. It has been reported that NSW Police deny using Clearview AI or other facial recognition technology at this time. This begs the question – how long until they do?

Author: Trudie Cameron, Senior Associate, Criminal Law, Sydney

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