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NZ’s biometric code of practice could worsen privacy: Business group

NZ’s biometric code of practice could worsen privacy: Business group

New Zealand is working on creating a biometrics Code of Practice as the country introduces more facial recognition applications. A local business group, however, is arguing that the Code could “potentially worsen privacy outcomes for people and should not proceed.”

In a letter addressed to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Digital Identity NZ (DINZ) says that guidelines on the use of biometric technology would be beneficial. The digital ID advocacy group also claims that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner does not have the expertise to create the guidelines by itself.

“The proposed Code is a response to public concerns, rather than actual privacy threat analysis,” says Digital Identity NZ.

Issues identified by DINZ include the use of multiple definitions for biometrics in the Code, and inconsistency with the ISO definition of “biometric sample.”

New Zealand began its efforts to regulate biometrics amid warnings from rights groups and a record surge in privacy complaints of 79 percent.

One of the most high-profile deployments of facial recognition technology is currently conducted by grocery cooperative Foodstuffs, which is trialing the system in 25 stores. Aside from consumer privacy issues, the supermarket chain has recently faced uncomfortable questions about the bias of its system, after a Māori woman was mistakenly identified as a thief. The case has compounded debates over discrimination related to the use of biometric data in policing.

Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster has promised to publish a draft of the Code of Practice under the country’s Privacy Act this autumn. In April, its office released the exposure draft of the code, known officially as the Biometric Processing Privacy Code, and announced public consultations which concluded on May 8th.

Digital Identity NZ’s letter, which was published this week, finds other faults in the proposed Code of Practice, including the negative impact regulatory uncertainty has on investment in facial recognition.

“We believe there should be an evidential basis to justify any regulatory changes, especially if the consequence is limiting otherwise legitimate and beneficial activity,” says the group. “Public concerns justify an investigation, not regulation.”

But not everyone seems to agree. In a letter published last week, consumer protection group Consumer NZ has expressed its support for the biometrics code, lauding tougher rules on the use of biometric data.

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