David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Auckland's CCTV plan to watch you

Privacy fears over facial recognition under police-council deal.

There are hundreds of CCTV cameras, like this one in Newmarket, dotted through retail and recreation centres in Auckland. Photo / Steven McNicholl
There are hundreds of CCTV cameras, like this one in Newmarket, dotted through retail and recreation centres in Auckland. Photo / Steven McNicholl

A city-wide surveillance network of CCTV cameras is being stitched together in Auckland as the forerunner of a national system which could include facial recognition technology.

The network will include thousands of cameras which will be available for police to use under a formal agreement with the council.

The agreement says the system would need to be reviewed to take into account rapidly evolving technology "including face recognition and licence plate recognition", adding that the council "itself might also look at enhanced technologies".

Civil liberties advocates have expressed concern over the project, suggesting it means everyone is a suspect while advocates for the system say it will help make the city safer.

Documents through the Official Information Act set out rules through which police would be allowed to access live feeds from the cameras, including "specific crime and safety hot-spots", traffic management and "real-time matters being investigated or responded by police".

Police would also be able to take direct control of the cameras for emergencies, "public safety issues", "real-time crime prevention investigations or activities" and traffic accident prevention.

The guidelines also allow for surveillance or monitoring of "specific individuals for specific criminal acts, organised crime or other reasonably suspected criminal behaviour" including terrorism. Access is granted for those purposes "on the basis of such evidence or reasonable suspicion of criminal offending."

Police can currently request footage from council but have no formal arrangement. They have not been able to access live feeds or take direct control of the cameras.

The project is being overseen by the Crime Prevention Partnership Forum which is made up of the security industry group, police, Auckland Council and retail industry representatives.

Minutes from its only meeting quote police headquarters Inspector Rob Duindam stating the Auckland project "would have a wider application."

"We are now looking at trying to get some shape around it on a national basis which ... is both doable and in fact is desirable."

The project builds on work in Auckland Council to bring its CCTV network together.

Auckland Transport's network alone includes 2500 cameras on bus, ferry, rail and road networks. There are hundreds of others dotted through retail and recreation centres across the city.

A spokesman for police headquarters said CCTV had benefits for crime prevention, community safety and emergency management.

"Once finalised they could form the basis of similar arrangements elsewhere in NZ for police access to public facing CCTV owned by local authorities and associated bodies."

He said discussions acknowledged the "capabilities" of new technologies in networked CCTV, including facial recognition and automatic number plate recognition. But he said "there are no plans at this time for the use of these technologies by police in any national networked CCTV system".

Auckland Council community policy manager Manoj Ragupathy said a stocktake of cameras was under way.

NZ Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Batch Hales said those introducing such a system needed to explain why it was needed.

"The other issue is the philosophy behind it - that everyone is effectively a suspect so we need to check on everyone to make sure they are not."

A 2012 survey found 93 per cent of Kiwis believed it was acceptable for police to use facial recognition technology to help identify people from security camera footage.

Caught on camera

• Auckland Council, police, retailers' groups and the security association are working to build a network of CCTV cameras.

• The council doesn't know how many cameras exist and is carrying out a stocktake.

• Auckland Transport has about 2500 cameras on its bus, ferry, rail and road network.

• Police will be allowed access under a set of conditions and will be able to carry out surveillance of specific individuals under some circumstances.

• All parties to the project cite privacy as an important principle to be recognised.

Auckland Council Camera Surveillance Systems in Public Places - MOU

Meeting: Operational Frameworks CCTV Technical Specifications

- NZ Herald

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