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Digital rights declaration signed by Sydney could limit public facial recognition


Sydney has signed the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights declaration, ZDNet reports, which could have significant ramifications for the deployment of public biometric facial recognition systems. It is the only city in Australia to sign on, despite urging from local rights activists.

The Digital Rights declaration was launched as a joint initiative of New York City, Amsterdam, and Barcelona, and has now been signed by 26 countries worldwide. It pledges universal and equal internet and digital literacy access; data protection for personal information in physical and virtual spaces; transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination of digital systems; participatory democracy, diversity, and inclusion; and open and ethical digital service standards.

Digital Rights Watch submitted a letter to more than 400 city councils across Australia asking them to support the declaration, and referring specifically to the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability. Tim Singleton Norton, Digital Rights Watch chair, told ZDNet that Australia’s lack of a charter of rights is contributing to a pattern of testing authoritarian legislation limiting privacy. The organization is concerned that proper due process and informed citizen consent are absent from Australian cities’ efforts to expand surveillance operations.

A Parliamentary committee recently advised the government to set up an oversight body for biometric data security.

“That’s everything from an increase in CCTV cameras to the popularity with law enforcement in artificial intelligence software that tracks and monitors the public,” Singleton Norton says. “Once you layer on new technology such as facial recognition and the linking of databases from the local to state to federal law enforcement agencies, we’re facing a very sudden and abrupt invasion of individual privacy in public spaces.”

Several cities in Australia have launched public surveillance programs recently, including a trial in Perth, while Darwin has completed a deployment of 138 new CCTV cameras which do not have facial recognition capabilities.

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