No formal assurance months after request.

Adelaide City Council is yet to receive formal assurance from South Australia Police that it will not use the facial recognition capabilities of Adelaide’s planned CCTV network until laws are developed.

In November 2021, the council passed a motion to prevent SAPOL from using the facial recognition technology in cameras that will replace the end-of-life “City Safe CCTV network”.

The CCTV network – which will be jointly owned by the City of Adelaide and SAPOL – is budgeted to cost $3 million.

The motion was that the council seek a formal undertaking from SAPOL that it would not use the facial recognition capabilities “unless and until the parliament of South Australia adopts legislation”.

A letter was sent to SAPOL later that month “advising of council’s request and seeking… consideration of and response to the request”.

But less than a week until the council is scheduled to approve funding for the cameras, SAPOL has not responded to the requst, according to a question on notice [pdf], despite acknowledging the letter in early June.

A SAPOL spokesperson did not answer iTnews questions as to why this was, and said that the force would consider using the technology in the future where it was reasonable to do so.

“Facial recognition technology can significantly speed up investigations by automating the viewing of large volumes of vision, a painstaking task for investigators,” the spokesperson said.

“There is no legislative restriction on the use of facial recognition technology in South Australia for investigations.

“Should a facial recognition capability be available investigators will consider the seriousness of the matter and evidentiary value when determining if it is appropriate to use the technology.”

The spokesperson added that the former “City Safe CCTV has proved to be an excellent tool for keeping the community safe”.

“SAPOL will continue to work collaboratively with the Adelaide City Council regarding the operation of the system,” the spokesperson said.

In the absence of assurance, a team of high-profile experts from industry, university and government are calling for the creation of guidelines to regulate the use of facial recognition cameras.

A public forum sponsored by Monash University, ANU and the Australian Research Council will be held on the eve of a council meeting on June 28 to review the funding for the CCTV network.

Panellists will include former Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow, who is developing a legal framework for regulating facial recognition technology in his new role at the University of Technology Sydney.

South Australian Law Society President Justin Stewart-Rattray, Monash University professor Mark Andrejevic, Greens MLC Tammy Franks and UTS expert Lauren Perry will also be present.

City councillor Phil Martin, who will moderate the panel, said “facial recognition raises real privacy concerns, and if it’s coming to our city we need to have clear guidelines for its use”.

Martin brought the motion at the council meeting last year to prevent SAPOL from using the facial recognition technology.

“I have concerns about council seeking to hand over the capacity to monitor people and their privacy as a kind of enabler to SAPOL,” he said at the time.

“In other places, there are laws, regulations determined by the parliament governing the operation of these cameras, and I’m speaking specifically of Victoria and, as I understand, the ACT.”

Last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission called for a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition in “high-risk” government decision-making until new laws are developed.

The commission considers policing and law enforcement one of the high-risk areas, or contexts where the consequences of error can be grave”, for the use of the technology.

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