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No let up as Aussies push for federal laws governing facial recognition

No let up as Aussies push for federal laws governing facial recognition

A group in Australia, including a former human rights commissioner there, has committed to writing model legislation for regulating facial recognition.

According to an article in InnovationAus, no laws in Australia directly regulate the use of facial recognition. Ed Santow, the former commissioner, has teamed with the University of Technology Sydney in an effort to prevent misuse of the systems already deployed. The Facial Recognition Model Law Project also includes Dr. Niels Wouters, who is described by InnovationAus as an AI expert.

Events are conspiring to make this year fertile ground for government action.

Late last year, a regulator body ended a two-year investigation into market activity by U.S. face recognition firm Clearview AI.

The company’s actions were ruled a violation of people’s right to privacy, said Australia‘s Information Commission. It ordered Clearview to stop harvesting Australians’ images and to delete those it has.

Clearview has scooped billions of images of faces globally and used them as part of a subscription identification service. Most images have come from social media.

Santow’s boilerplate legislation is expected to be ready for national lawmakers to build upon around July. It is expected to cover systems used by most organizations, from business to law enforcement.

At least some local governments, including Adelaide, are on the same page. The city council is preventing the South Australia Police from using face biometrics until governing legislation can be passed.

What little legislation exists in the United States, for example, focuses on government use even though use of facial recognition is increasing among businesses.

One exception is the state of Illinois’ Biometric Information Protection Act, which requires businesses to, among other things, get consent from individuals before accepting biometric identifiers.

Santow told the publication that the federal government must demonstrate urgency, not just understanding, in ratifying a framework for the technology. Last year, he called for a moratorium on face biometrics used for sensitive decision making until controlling legislation exists.

Clearview is an extreme example of how facial recognition services and products can gather biometric identifiers for profit, but other companies and government agencies around the world continue to work on their own models.

Algorithms are not perfect, and mistakes can result in life-altering events for individuals, each of whom should be protected as such and not thought of as a percentage or error, Santow said. And the potential for misuse is great as well.

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