What Sort Of Technology Requires Clear Images Of People’s Faces – And Are The Police Still Operating It?

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IT SEEMS PERFECTLY OBVIOUS to me why the Police are stopping and photographing young Maori and Pasifika New Zealanders. Officers patrolling at street level are, almost certainly, recording and sending clear, full-face images of “potential future suspects” to a database linked to the facial recognition technology (FRT) which elements within the Police have been trialling. Because FRT is notoriously unreliable when it comes to identifying people of colour, it makes sense for the Police to be gathering highly-detailed images that can be scanned and registered, thereby making future identifications easier and more accurate.

It was in May of last year that RNZ journalist Mackenzie Smith broke the news that the Police had been secretly trialling the FRT manufactured by Clearview AI. According to Smith, this trial had been undertaken without the knowledge of either the new Police Commissioner, Andy Coster, or the Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards. Clearview AI is the preferred FRT of hundreds of police departments in the United States.

In the face of Smith’s revelations, the man who commissioned the trial, national manager of criminal investigations, Detective Superintendent Tom Fitzgerald, told RNZ that: “Police undertook a short trial of Clearview AI earlier this year to assess whether it offered any value to police investigations. This was a very limited trial to assess investigative value. The trial has now ceased and the value to investigations has been assessed as very limited and the technology at this stage will not be used by New Zealand Police.”

But had the trial ceased? According to Smith’s report: “Prior to the statement from Fitzgerald, police spokespeople told RNZ on two separate occasions in the past week – on 7 and 11 May – that the trial was still underway. A spokesperson later said these statements were incorrect.”

The plot thickened considerably when RNZ revealed that the Silicon valley billionaire (and New Zealand citizen) Peter Thiel, whose Palantir electronic eavesdropping technology is an important weapon in the Five Eyes global surveillance arsenal, had been involved in the setting-up of Clearview AI. An important aspect of the company’s marketing strategy was its FRT’s supposed efficacy in identifying terrorist threats.

It is tempting to speculate that the NZ Police’s interest in Clearview AI had been prompted by the Christchurch Mosque Attacks of 15 March 2019. Following the tragedy, the public was highly critical of the Police, the Security Intelligence Service and the GCSB for their collective failure to identify the terrorist and prevent him from carrying out his murderous mission. The fact that the trial of Clearview AI had begun in January 2020 is certainly suggestive of a project that had its genesis several months earlier.

If this was, indeed, the initial motivation for the Clearview AI trial, then the Police’s surreptitious action is tinged with considerable irony. Smith, himself, had provided a link in his online story to a Huffington Post article excoriating Clearview AI as a refuge for far-right activists with views not too far removed from those of the Christchurch gunman. According to the HuffPost’s contributor, Luke O’Brien:

“Clearview is the most powerful form of facial recognition technology ever created, according to the [New York] Times. With more than 3 billion photos scraped surreptitiously from social media profiles and websites, its image database is almost seven times the size of the FBI’s. Its mobile app can match names to faces with a tap of a touchscreen. The technology is already being integrated into augmented reality glasses so people can identify almost anyone they look at.”

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Small wonder, then, that Smith’s revelations prompted some pretty blunt speaking from the then Justice Minister, Andrew Little (who is still the Minister Responsible for the SIS and the GCSB).

“I don’t know how it came to be that a person thought that this was a good idea”, Little told RNZ. “It clearly wasn’t endorsed, from the senior police hierarchy, and it clearly didn’t get the endorsement from the [Police] Minister nor indeed from the wider cabinet … that is a matter of concern.”

Whether that blunt ministerial intervention was enough to stop the ongoing trialling of FRT is open to question. In December of 2020, RNZ (whose reporting of these issues has been truly outstanding) broke a story about Police officers stopping and photographing young people on the streets of Wairarapa towns. The question raised then was the same as the question being raised now: “Why?”

If, as the high-tech crime unit bosses had insisted back in 2020, Clearview AI “hadn’t worked”, and the whole FRT project had, consequently, been shelved, where were the images recorded by beat officers being sent?

They could hardly have been logged into the official Police database – this is reserved for people who have been arrested, photographed and fingerprinted. Information obtained from people who have been neither arrested nor charged suddenly showing up in official Police files would have immediately set off alarm bells.

Then – as now – the presumption was that the recorded facial images were being sent somewhere else.

Following Smith’s stories, Police Commissioner Coster had ordered a “stocktake” of where exactly the Police were at in relation to FRT: “Clearly, technology is moving really quickly”,  Coster told RNZ, “and it has good and appropriate application in law enforcement. The trick is for us to make sure that we are doing that within the bounds of [the] Privacy Act.”

Well, yes, that is the “trick” isn’t it? – assuming, of course, that following the rules is your first priority. But is it really? Given that the stopping and photographing of young people – especially young Maori and Pasifika – is still going on, and that the Police Officers responsible are using a special app for the purpose, we have reasonable grounds to wonder.

The Daily Blog editor, Martyn Bradbury, has assembled an impressive list of the agencies responsible for preserving New Zealand’s national security. Among these are a number of special units operating within the NZ Police. Amassing data for the purposes of avoiding another terrorist attack is only one of the objectives of these secretive and, clearly, not-always-under-control intelligence and surveillance units. There are the gangs to monitor; the suppliers of methamphetamine and other dangerous drugs to identify; as well, of course, as any number of animal rights activists, eco-warriors and radical Maori nationalists to keep an eye on. It would be surprising, to say the least, if those running these shadowy outfits remain entirely indifferent to the contribution FRT could make to Police operations.

Maybe Clearview AI didn’t work, and maybe it did. Maybe that unauthorised FRT trial was shut down last year, and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the collection of young people’s facial details is entirely innocent, and maybe it’s not. That’s always the problem when it comes to the activities of the Secret State, isn’t it?

You just don’t know.

20 COMMENTS

    • Indeed. AND put it on record they should never hold any ps role in future. But of course that’s not now the way things are done in NZ. A promotion sideways is usually the way

      • I’ve plagiarized Voltaire before and I do so again:

        Beware of the words, “internal security,”
        for they are the, eternal cry, of the oppressor. Voltaire

  1. Having been on the receiving end of police brutality, inconsistency, lying in court and a cover-up for carrying out environmental activism, I am well aware that the ‘security system’ cannot be trusted, and that one sector doesn’t know what another sector is doing. Indeed, it seems that half the time no one knows what anyone is doing, as the system fumbles along; poorly trained, overworked and understaffed, with egos to protect, as with most organisations in NZ.

    But if there is a threat to the power structure that keeps sociopaths in a position of being able to raid the commons and transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, you can be sure ‘security forces’ will be there at the drop of a hat.

    What ‘security forces’ cannot contend with is environmental collapse, and their efforts to stamp out environmental activism are counterproductive beyond belief, as we proceed through Planetary Meltdown towards a world that will be rendered largely uninhabitable by the economic-political system that the police are required to protect.

    I came across a ‘lovely’ snippet this morning, as the Southwest portion of the US marches along the path towards uninhabitability via Abrupt Climate Change.

    ‘Fears Of A ​​​​​​​”Return Of The 1930s Dust Bowl” Rise As Record Drought Sizzles Southwest

    …Gary Esslinger, treasurer-manager of the district in Las Cruces, New Mexico, told WSJ that his area’s conditions are absolutely “horrific.” He said at least 33% of the 6,500 farmers in his region had taken offline 90,640 irrigable acres out of production from previous drought years.

    New Mexico State Engineer John D’Antonio Jr. has requested farmers not to plant this year due to dangerously low levels at the state’s reservoirs.

    Reservoir levels across the Southwest have been dropping over the last year. The biggest, Lake Mead, an artificial lake that lies on the Colorado River, about 24 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, is only 41% full.

    Lake Mead supplies about 90% of the water for Las Vegas and if levels dropped further could endanger water supplies for put to 43 million Americans. We noted back in 2014 water levels in the reservoir dropped to their lowest levels since the Hoover Dam was constructed in the 1930s.

    At the time we told readers to “get there now, watch the fountains, drink the water, swim in the lake… (and sell your house)” as the water Lake Mead is “screwed.”

    Making matters worse, the Southwest region is experiencing a booming population as people flee West Coast cities and other metro areas full of violent crime.

    The Southwest drought crisis could be a familiar one, not seen since the 1930s.

    There’s just one looming question: With irrigable acres taken offline and crop loss, does this mean food inflation will continue to surge?

    Besdies that, government-mandated water cuts to millions of users could be next…’

    https://www.zerohedge.com/weather/record-drought-sizzles-southwest-fears-return-1930s-dust-bowl

    And where Las Vegas goes, so goes Auckland, with its population overshoot, its failing water system and its failing institutions.

    Just waiting for Ponzi finance to implode and the energy crisis to impact.

    After that we’ll be back to cops on bicycles if we are lucky. And no cops at all if we are less lucky.

    On the other hand, societies operated quite successfully for many millennia without police. .

    ‘Interesting times’ get more ‘interesting’ by the day.

  2. I am sure Chris has provided an accurate assessment of the intent behind Police policy regarding photos although I would like to see as much effort put into combatting the other factors that cause Maori to be over-represented in the wrong side of the justice system.

  3. I would ask if the young people being photographed have any official ID like Student ID or drivers licences that can prove their identity with a photo? Being ‘young’ they may not have those cards, and the Police need to identify who they are talking to.

    Because if they don’t have photo ID, then the photos are a record of who was being spoken to at that time by the Police, and the photo could be shown to witnesses and complainants as the way of making a link to a crime.

    • “Because if they don’t have photo ID, then the photos are a record of who was being spoken to at that time by the Police, and the photo could be shown to witnesses and complainants as the way of making a link to a crime”.

      What crime Ada? It’s my understanding these facial images are being taken in the absence of any actual crime being committed. The point being made is the ethics/ legality of taking the photos for use in any FUTURE crime that might be committed.

      • I don’t know the circumstances of this ‘stop and photograph’ activity either.

        Is it part of an investigation of crimes done shortly beforehand, or alternatively – and appallingly – photographing randomly selected brown-skinned teenagers on the expectation they will commit a crime sooner or later.

        The Police will have to explain why they need the photos.

  4. I’m Irish by ancestry so I found this interesting. So might Maori? ( I’m also Scots but I don’t talk about that unless I’m about to get into a brawl. I’m old and fat now so that seems ever less likely.)
    https://boingboing.net/2021/03/10/the-president-of-ireland-released-a-stunning-statement-about-the-lingering-impacts-of-colonialism.html
    Perhaps the reason why our police force is so interested in younger Maori is because, unlike non Maori, Maori will stick together and stand shoulder to shoulder against any future colonisation of AO/NZ?
    Because if one’s brave enough, one can read about this little matter, nothing really, the matter of the looming climate crisis which is clearly far more worse than we can imagine and becoming ever more so on a daily basis.
    The Guardian
    “It’s unavoidable: we must ban fossil fuels to save our planet. Here’s how we do it”
    Roland Geyerhttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/09/its-unavoidable-we-must-ban-fossil-fuels-to-save-our-planet-heres-how-we-do-it )
    Now? That says to me that there will be climate refugees on the run from 50+c temps. But they won’t be the hoi polloi from the larger populations. No. They’ll be the elite, the privileged and of course, the very, very, very rich. They’ll come here and they’ll be wanting to know about any problems that might arise, like annoying indigenous peoples that might kick up a fuss about sharing resources with the same sCunthorpe’s who fucked things up for their own greed, power and penis envy in the first place. Aye Boys?
    AO/NZ’s a capitalist democracy and our worker unions are in tatters. That means our senior ministers are merely their managers and lessor MP’s are their staff. And so on ad infinitum.
    It also means that the owners of AO/NZ Co Ltd have enormous power and were never voted in and yet they’re here and we’re learning that they can’t be voted out and that means, within the context of this Post, our police are simply a private security apparatus for Big Money.
    That worries me. How about you?
    We’re at a cross roads. We can chose to travel into oblivion with a coach load of psychopathic money fetishists or we can resist their overtures by mandatory voting. The kids the cops are taking photo’s of must urgently be made to engage in the decisions that’ll effect their lives. We have to vote. We must vote.

    • …( I’m also Scots but I don’t talk about that unless I’m about to get into a brawl. I’m old and fat now so that seems ever less likely.)….

      YOU BEAUTY !!!

      ROFL !!!

      THIS ;

      ————–
      …’Perhaps the reason why our police force is so interested in younger Maori is because, unlike non Maori, Maori will stick together and stand shoulder to shoulder against any future colonisation of AO/NZ?’…
      ————-

      AND THIS ;
      ————-
      …” It also means that the owners of AO/NZ Co Ltd have enormous power and were never voted in and yet they’re here and we’re learning that they can’t be voted out and that means, within the context of this Post, our police are simply a private security apparatus for Big Money”…

      ————
      THEN THERES THIS ;
      ————-

      …” Now? That says to me that there will be climate refugees on the run from 50+c temps. But they won’t be the hoi polloi from the larger populations. No. They’ll be the elite, the privileged and of course, the very, very, very rich. They’ll come here and they’ll be wanting to know about any problems that might arise, like annoying indigenous peoples that might kick up a fuss about sharing resources with the same sCunthorpe’s who fucked things up for their own greed, power and penis envy in the first place. Aye Boys?”…

      ————-
      AND FINALLY THIS ;
      ————-
      …” We’re at a cross roads. We can chose to travel into oblivion with a coach load of psychopathic money fetishists or we can resist their overtures by mandatory voting. The kids the cops are taking photo’s of must urgently be made to engage in the decisions that’ll effect their lives. We have to vote. We must vote”…

      ————

      FUCKING AWESOME. A TRUTH TELLER. AT LAST.

      A MAN WHO TELLS THE TRUTH.

      You are awarded the most favorite song of modern day pre medieval songs.

      Fehu by Wardruna
      https://youtu.be/Le4B9T12zbs?t=119

      And that’s an honour I personably bestow on you.

      BLESS.

  5. So the NZ police have an inner secret squad like the Stasi or the Gestapo, only we and the Minister don’t know it? And this state within state spies on us gathering our facial geometry to do what?

    And worse than that Godzone’s own Keystone KGB’s philosophy is based on that of the Ku Klux Klan and its only non-white people these spies are concerned with, spying on them to hone their software skills. And they must be fresh meat so to speak, not any other photo could possibly do. I mean they couldn’t possibly use any of the millions of photos or CCTV they have on file already could they? Couldn’t send actors out in the field to test this without controversy, without giving the whole super stealth game away? Gosh no.

    Really??? FFS, what evidence do you have aside from your fertile imagination for this Trumpian tinfoil hat shit? Honestly mate.

    Perhaps it’s our overlord extraterrestrial cousins, the same ones who measured up the pyramids for our ancestors, now spooked by earthling space ships landing on their red planet, who have decided enough is enough and in conjunction with the secret police are siphoning off photographic data for intelligence for their upcoming planned invasion. Little more likely :).

    • If they are like any other govt dept they probably archive collected data after x amount of time. But there is nothing to stop the NZ Police from putting this question to the people and asking us whether we agree or disagree with them collecting this type of information in this particular way.

      Rapidly changing technology will make it obsolete when something else comes along anyway, but extra- terrestrials with the ability to invade our fading insubstantial pageant, will certainly be infinitely superior to an MP emerging from The Mermaid at 2 am during lockdown, and confronting the cops trying to avert a major gang showdown on the street, and demanding that they explain themselves to her… before her little life is rounded with a sleep…

  6. You just don’t know. What do you do when you don’t know? You just make something up, you suggest and imply.

  7. The Mark of the Beast
    …17so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark—the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18Here is a call for wisdom: Let the one who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and that number is 666
    Berean Study Bible

    Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast
    https://youtu.be/WxnN05vOuSM?t=7

  8. Five years ago the undemocratic inaccuracy of facial recognition software was being questioned : https://theintercept.com/2016/10/18/study-lack-of-face-recognition-oversight-threatens-privacy-of-millions/
    There’s this kind of example : https://theintercept.com/2016/10/13/how-a-facial-recognition-mismatch-can-ruin-your-life/ an article which ends: “an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who works on face recognition, is concerned that human biases may even exacerbate the errors of technology. The seemingly unassailable combination of human expertise and technology may create legal situations where the burden of proof shifts onto the defendant, she explained. False matches end up forcing citizens to prove that they aren’t who examiners (and, increasingly, their algorithmic partners) say they are. In other words, what happened to Steve Talley could happen to others again and again.” and it does.
    Again, “the technology is only as good as the people who implement it” : https://theintercept.com/2017/03/22/real-time-face-recognition-threatens-to-turn-cops-body-cameras-into-surveillance-machines/

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