Commonwealth Games: Privacy Commissioner slams facial recognition plans as ‘unprecedented’

Privacy concerns as mass biometric roll out planned. Photo: TG

Queensland’s Privacy Commissioner has raised concerns over plans to use facial recognition technology to identify suspected ‘terrorists’ during the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018.

Biometric identification technology is set to be deployed on the Gold Coast public transport network early next year, including trains, trams and buses at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, to identify potential ‘terror suspects’ before they can interrupt the proceedings.

The commissioner, Philip Green, said the proposal would represent an “unprecedented example of predictive policing, with parallels perhaps only in China and Russia.


It has been revealed the sophisticated biometric system will link to the existing Gold Coast CCTV camera network – including on platforms and major public transport stops – and will be monitored on a 24/7 basis by some of the 10,000+ personnel tasked with security of the Commonwealth Games.

The Australian Federal Police are driving the project, in collaboration with the Gold Coast City Council, in what will be the most far reaching public use of facial recognition technology to date, which they have praised as ‘the best way to test’ the digital network due to the city’s high-level use of CCTV cameras.

The technology, already being introduced across the country, would be maintained on a round-the-clock basis, with the aim was to “…identify suspects in crowds and have the military or police intercept them before they could get close to events.

Related: Australian schools are now implementing biometric identification technology

Worldwide incidents such as the ‘Manchester terrorist attack’ have added to the increased security capabilities of officials, with London police informing Games security planning, officials released in a statement.

Facial recognition is already used by Australia’s Border Force and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which matches faces, including at airports, against images from Australian passports and a larger database of foreign visitors, which is said to contain more than 100 million records.

Related: Queensland announces trials to replace public transport cards with facial recognition

Related: National facial recognition ‘incompatible with a free society’, privacy groups warn

Proponents of the biometric security system are already calling for extended use in response to the attacks, and could soon become a feature at other major sporting and public events around the country, as the Federal Government looks to introduce a broader suite of federal programs around identity verification, including a bid to link state and territory driver licence databases.

This technology is constantly evolving. No decisions have been made regarding how and where this technology will be deployed. It is not appropriate to publicly discuss this security strategy further at this time,” AFP representatives have said.

Privacy issues are reportedly set to be raised by the federal government in discussions with games officials, police and commonwealth agencies on Friday.


Below is a brief assessment of the new plans by Queensland Privacy Commissioner, Philip Green:

“At present, state police, in cooperation with the Australian federal police, can manually perform facial recognition matching pictures they take of people of interest against their databases. The issue is with an automated process that uses algorithms to send up a flag.

That’s scary stuff because it’s predictive policing and preventive and the false positives mean people get profiled possibly by racial appearance or cultural dress.

Facial recognition for terrorist screening is theoretically possible and they should be looking at it. But frankly there’s a false-positive problem with facial identification, it’s not 100%.

The risk of rapid-deployment police squads preemptively tackling people who turn out to be innocent parties would be of concern to games organisers. Obviously there’s a trade off with security and public safety at big events.”

UK authorities have used facial recognition to identify a specific wanted person in a particular area but Green said he was unaware of law enforcement anywhere using an automated facial recognition network to screen for suspects, except perhaps in China, Russia, maybe North Korea.

It’s one thing looking for someone who has a warrant out for their arrest, versus one who might profile as someone who’s at risk.

The examples of private companies using automated facial recognition for targeted advertising showed the technology exists, but there’s definitely an issue with accuracy.

The Queensland government should perform a “proper privacy impact analysis” before signing up to the plan.”


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Commonwealth Games – Alarm at plan to use facial technology to spot terror suspects:

Facial ID to rollout at Gold Coast games:

Australian schools are now implementing biometric identification technology:

Facial recognition to replace passports in radical security overhaul at Australian airports:

Australian Law Reform Commission – Impact of Developing Technology on Privacy:

How Reliable is Facial Recognition Evidence? via Sydney Criminal Lawyers:

The Fall of Australia – An overview of new ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation:

Tracking technology plan to monitor Queen Street Mall and South Bank visitors via their mobile phones:

Visa polls Australians about payments with RFID implants:


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