NSW Police Force and Facial recognition

NSW Police Force (NSWPF) uses a range of operational tactics and technologies to prevent, disrupt, investigate and respond to serious and violent crime and help keep communities safe. One valuable tool is facial recognition technology (FR).

Criminal organisations are taking advantage of new and emerging technologies, and in response, are developing new ways to commit crime, particularly identity related crime.

According to research by the Australian Institute of Criminology, identity crime will impact around 1 in 4 Australians over their lifetime and it is estimated to cost more than $3.1 billion annually to the economy. Identity crime is also a key enabler of serious and organised crime, which according to the governments National Strategy to Fight Transnational, Serious and Organised Crime (2018), has an estimated annual cost to Australia of $47 billion.

As technology changes, policing needs to change with it and FR allows law enforcement to proactively and quickly respond to these emerging threats.

What is facial recognition technology?

FR is a term used for any technology that compares one photo with another to identify a person or confirm their identity.  There are many kinds of FR and many ways to use the technology, but essentially, they all help identify a person from a digital image.

FR maps facial features from a photo. It reads the geometry of a face and develops a numerical template to coincide with measurements between facial features (distance between eyes, width of nose etc). This creates a unique facial signature. This template is then compared to photographic information stored in a database to find a match.

Responsible use of facial recognition technology

NSWPF is committed to using FR responsibly, balancing the requirements of relevant legislation and operational policing objectives with the interests of the community. This includes the rights and privacy of individuals. In balancing these interests, NSWPF aims to promote ethical, legal and professional practices across all of its policing techniques.

We are committed to protecting the privacy and security of your personal information in accordance with the Privacy and Personal Information Act 1998 (NSW) and the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).

NSWPF has also established an internal governance structure to ensure the responsible, ethical and lawful use of FR.

How does NSWPF use facial recognition technology?

NSWPF uses different FR systems to prevent, disrupt and investigate crime. These resources can be used to protect the public by:

  • assisting investigators to identify persons of interest by comparing their image, possibly taken from CCTV with a catalogue of images of individuals charged with criminal offences;
  • supporting investigators to enhance national security, combat terrorism and identity crime;
  • identify individuals who are at risk, including investigating missing persons or in relation to a disaster event;
  • investigating other serious criminal activity, such as organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, people smuggling and child exploitation.

FR supports normal investigative methods by automating existing policing functions – It does NOT replace them. There is no substitute for a human using their judgement and training to manually review suggestions made by FR tools to identify unknown persons and respond appropriately.

Once a potential identification has been made using FR, it is assessed by a specialist facial recognition examiner. Police then use traditional law enforcement techniques to confirm whether the individual is in fact a person of interest in relation to the investigation.

NSWPF has an existing catalogue of “charge” photos. These are photos of people that have previously been in police custody and have been charged with an offence. Police use FR to compare a photo of an unknown suspect with the charge photos on file to see if there is a match.

This system can produce leads for investigators. It can also create photographic line-ups and photo boards that can be shown to a witness or victim to help with faster suspect identification.

How are law enforcement agencies across Australia working together to protect you?

NSWPF is working with the Commonwealth and other law enforcement agencies to protect Australians from identity crime and stay one step ahead of those that threaten our community and undermine Australia’s identity checking processes.

All Australian governments have agreed to participate in the Face Matching Services (FMS) that enable Australian law enforcement, intelligence and anti-corruption agencies to work better together to investigate serious crime. The FMS will also protect Australians from identity crime by helping people to verify their identity in a way that is fast, secure and private.

The FMS use the latest facial recognition technology to compare photos against existing government-issued documents with photographic information, for example immigration visas or passports.

To keep this information safe, there is no single database that will hold all images available via the FMS. Instead, a central hub will allow agencies to exchange information without storing any personal information. This will allow for better audit, oversight, and accountability mechanisms.

Specialist NSWPF officers are conducting a limited (low volume) trial of FMS to test the system and evaluate the privacy, security and accountability safeguards that are in place. Lessons learned will also be shared with Australian jurisdictions.

More information on the Commonwealth FMS is available on the IDMatch website at https://www.idmatch.gov.au/

Frequently Asked Questions:

How is my privacy protected?

NSWPF is committed to making sure that citizen’s privacy is protected and that personal information is secure against hacking or misuse.

NSWPPF has a Privacy Management Plan that sets out legal obligations and responsibilities to respect the privacy rights of members of the public. You can read the plan here.

NSWPF’s privacy framework for use of the FMS system has been independently evaluated to ensure NSW can implement best practice safeguards for the use of this technology. We are constantly evaluating our relevant policies and procedures to ensure best practice and security.

For information on how the FMS protect privacy, a Privacy Statement is published on the IDMatch website. You can find the statement here.

The NSW Government has also committed to protecting citizen’s personal information, and enhancing identity security, in its NSW Identity Strategy. To learn more about the Strategy, you can visit the NSW Identity Strategy Government website here.

How accurate is facial recognition technology?

FR used by NSWPF has a high standard of accuracy and the accuracy of the technology available is improving year by year. However, we do not rely on the accuracy of the technology alone, and always use FR in combination with human expertise.

Results from a facial recognition search are assessed by a face matching examiner. FR is never the only tool used to conclusively identify a person. Police are trained to understand that FR does not provide a definitive answer about the identity of persons of interest or victims. The results of a search must always be combined with other information available to Police, before a positive identification is made.

Can Commonwealth Face Matching Services be used for mass surveillance?

No. Face Matching Services (FMS) are not permitted to be used as a mass surveillance tool, and it does not accept video (live or recorded) as the basis for any search. Only static photos can be submitted for a search. FMS are not linked to CCTV cameras.

How does the Commonwealth Face Matching Services use my personal information?

Facial images that a NSW Government agency may have collected from you, such as a driver licence photograph, will in future be made available to other Australian Government agencies via the FMS.

Importantly, facial images from NSW Government agencies have not yet been made available to the Commonwealth Government for use via the FMS. Facial images of NSW citizens will not be made available via the FMS until the NSW Government is satisfied that appropriate privacy and security safeguards are in place.

In the meantime, specialist NSWPF officers have limited access to the FMS using facial images from Commonwealth agencies. The NSWPF is using the limited access to test the system and evaluate the privacy, security and accountability safeguards, in anticipation of facial images collected by NSW Government agencies being made available via the FMS to other law enforcement agencies.   

Can I opt-out of Commonwealth Face Matching Services?

No, you cannot decide to have your images excluded from the system. An opt-out system would allow criminals to opt out and avoid being identified.

How is data protected in Commonwealth Face Matching Services?

Commonwealth FMS are assessed and accredited in accordance with the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Information Security Manual, and the Commonwealth’s Protective Security Policy Framework. The systems also use encryption and authorisation procedures approved by the Australian Signals Directorate to ensure data protection, security and confidentiality. More information is available on the Commonwealth website IDMatch here.