Privacy Commissioner takes a deeper look at biometric technologies – Reseller News

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Approaches outlined in a position paper last year now not considered adequate.
Michael Webster (Privacy Commissioner)
The privacy commissioner sees a “strong case for for further action” to ensure the use of biometric technologies is subject to appropriate privacy protections.
Launching a consultation today, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner said a number of factors had led the regulator to believe approaches outlined in a position paper published last year were not enough on their own.
The use of biometric technologies was increasing and diversifying in New Zealand and overseas and there was growing concern in New Zealand about the adequacy of current regulation for facial recognition technology in particular and biometrics in general.
“Specific concerns are being raised about the implications of [facial recognition technology] and other biometric technologies for Māori: for example, concerns about bias and profiling, accuracy and the collection and use of images that may include moko (traditional tattooing),” the consultation paper said.
Clearer regulatory expectations about biometrics would also benefit both the users and subjects of biometric information.
“Greater clarity would allow organisations to innovate and make safe and effective use of biometrics when they have a good reason to do so, knowing the kinds of safeguards they need to have in place,” the paper said.
“Regulatory clarity would assure the public that their biometric information should be processed only if it’s appropriate and safe to do so in the circumstances.”
It would also help individuals to know what they should expect of organisations using biometrics and to hold organisations to account if they didn’t meet those expectations.
A clear set of regulatory expectations would also empower the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to take compliance action in relation to biometrics.
“Other countries with which we commonly compare ourselves have implemented tighter controls on biometrics than New Zealand has,” the paper said. “While taking account of our specific context, New Zealand needs to remain broadly in line with comparable jurisdictions so that we maintain our global privacy and human rights reputation.”
Compatible privacy rules also facilitated international trade.
Under the Privacy Act, the commissioner could only regulate information, not technologies. The focus in the earlier position paper was, therefore, on the use of biometric information in technological systems that conduct automated recognition of individuals.
“But we do regulate the ways in which agencies use technological systems to process people’s information, which can include requiring those systems to meet relevant industry standards (for example, security standards),” the consultation paper explained.

“All biometric information is sensitive and requires careful protection. Many of the same principles will apply to biometric information regardless of how it’s used.” 
The focus now is on automated processing of biometric information because the commissioner believed the growth in biometric technologies created new or increased privacy risks.
Issues relating to genetic (DNA) analysis and profiling are not covered in the new review because, while genetic analysis is a form of biometrics, it involved “quite distinct legal and ethical issues” best considered separately.
Michael Webster was appointed privacy commissioner in June to replace John Edwards, who now leads the UK’s privacy watchdog. The commissioner’s role is to promote and oversee the 13 information privacy principles established in 2020.
Submissions on the consultation are due by 30 September.
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