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New Zealand plans public consultations on draft biometrics code in early 2024

New Zealand plans public consultations on draft biometrics code in early 2024

The Privacy Commissioner of New Zealand Michael Webster says an exposure draft of a biometrics code will be released for public comment early next year as the government continues its push to establish clear guardrails as the use of biometrics in the country increases.

According to information from the office of the Privacy Commissioner, the move is part of efforts to build trust and confidence in citizens in relation to how organizations and business entities use biometrics.

The motivations for a biometrics code for New Zealand were discussed by Webster in August.

The planned consultations next year, he believes, will allow citizens to have their say on how the final biometrics code should look.

He said: “Biometrics affects us all and I want to hear from the experts and other stakeholders we usually hear from, but also from the people going to the supermarket, or receiving marketing, who will have views on what parts of their personal information is collected and stored.”

Per the official, the draft biometrics code has three parts. They include a proportionality assessment which will necessitate agencies to determine whether the reasons to make use of biometrics outweigh privacy and risks; transparency and notification requirements which will make it mandatory for agencies to be open and transparent with individuals and the general public about how they collect and use biometric data, and purpose limitations which will impose some restrictions on how such data is collected in the first place.

Webster explains in the announcement how the need for a biometrics code was decided on, saying: “We’re taking a leadership position here because we need to develop ideas that are workable and effective but also take into account technological advancements.”

He adds that the commissioner’s office determined it was necessary to have new rules for biometrics use after officials “looked at the privacy risks related to biometrics, analyzed what is happening with laws in other countries, and heard from local stakeholders.”

Emphasizing the importance of consultations on the code, the Privacy Commissioner says it is necessary to get the right language framing for the text in order not to stir any inadvertent consequences.

The consultations, he notes, will “tell us whether we’ve got the technical details correct and help us make further refinements.”

“Biometrics has been in the media a lot in 2023 so this is also a great opportunity to hear from people about what they think about biometrics and whether they think their biometric information is sufficiently protected,” said Webster.

Complaints about biometrics bias, discrimination

The need to have a biometrics code in place, the Commissioner said, is also prompted by recurrent complaints from groups such as the Māori regarding the broadening use of biometrics technology and some of the discrimination and bias that come with it.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand, a technology ethicist, Dr. Karaitiana Taiuru, decried the fact that members of the group were being used by some companies to test their facial recognition systems in the country.

The Māori are an indigenous Polynesian group of people in New Zealand.

“We have facial recognition being rolled out again without any consultation of the Māori, despite research showing that these systems are racist and would cause issues for people of colour,” said Taiuru.

He said in order for the government not to continue to use the Māori “as guinea pigs to try an international system,” he was engaging with the “Privacy Commissioner and the Māori community to make sure that the community is actually aware of the discrimination and racism facial recognition technologies cause around the world, and to look for solutions on how to make this system work in New Zealand in a way that benefits everybody.”

In September, a digital ID group in New Zealand (DINZ) pointed out some important issues to consider as the country works on its biometrics code.

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