Stadiums Queensland sparks fury after facial recognition trial

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Stadiums Queensland facial recognition Image: The Gabba

Australia’s Stadiums Queensland has admitted to testing facial recognition software on sports fans and concertgoers, prompting questions by the state’s privacy commissioner about its quiet implementation.

The move meant patrons were being monitored in real time, with their biometric data potentially being stored and shared with other agencies such as state and federal police, the ABC news reported.

While Stadiums Queensland (SQ) venues display privacy warnings about the use of CCTV, there is no signage suggesting facial recognition technology is in operation, the report stated. It makes Queensland the third state behind New South Wales and Victoria to trial the mass surveillance technology at its major stadiums.

Queensland Privacy Commissioner Phil Green was quoted by ABC as saying that the public deserved to be aware their images and data were being captured and encouraged SQ and other similar agencies to conduct a privacy impact assessment.

“It’s certainly something for any large-scale technology implementation like that, that we recommend,” he said.

“It’s simply good practice to identify risks of conducting this sort of surveillance and using facial recognition — those risks are being identified worldwide at the moment.

“It’s been demonstrated that bias can creep in, depending on what databases you’re using and who’s in the database, and the algorithms themselves.”

Green said when facial recognition is used by matching a particular image in a database to someone in a crowd — otherwise known as the “one to many” approach — bias could evolve in the use of the technology. “The quality of the images is one of the big variables, particularly in a big crowd,” he said.

“The technology is getting better, but it’s been demonstrated that bias can creep in depending on what databases you’re using and who’s in the database, and then also the algorithms themselves.

“It’s been highlighted in the US and in the UK where certain populations are represented in databases more broadly — so African Americans.

“I would imagine in Australia there’s a potential for ethnic minorities to be over-represented in the justice system, to be singled out in the crowds more readily just because there are more images [in the database].”

SQ oversees the management of nine of the state’s biggest venues, including Lang Park, The Gabba and the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Last year, Sports Minister Mick de Brenni said the technology was being considered as part of an $8.3 million security upgrade across the suite of venues. An SQ spokeswoman confirmed the trial was underway and that data was being shared with police.

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