Darwin council claims new CCTV cameras “will not use facial recognition”

Darwin council insists that the new set of cameras in the Central Business District will not employ facial recognition until the technology is more carefully considered.

The 138 cameras were installed as part of the Switching On Darwin project, which also provides public wifi, new lighting, and traffic sensors. Although the cameras do have facial recognition hardware in them, the city does not plan to utilize it at this time.

However, council general manager Josh Sattler stated that although the city will not employ the technology, “requests coming from a state or federal agency” will “need to be complied with.” 

Install first, question later

Of the 81 grants offered by Australia’s Smart Cities and Suburbs program, only the Darwin proposal included funding for facial recognition technology. The Darwin council’s addition of the technology was done without public consultation. An estimated six month study by an outside consultant agency began in August.

Concerns with facial recognition

Many question the council’s decision to include a technology that will supposedly not be employed. Julia Powles, researcher and associate professor at the University of Western Australia, questions “the real reason why [the technologies] were sought in the first place”, adding “it’s like buying a supercomputer and then saying you’re just going to surf the web and check emails.”

Security of camera feeds also stands out as a major concern. Elise Thomas from the International Cyber Policy Centre, offered a warning along these lines:

“The ways in which a lot of these projects are being implemented at the level of local councils, particularly from a cyber-security perspective, those councils may not necessarily have the resources to ensure that their systems are secure”

Internet connected devices are notoriously vulnerable to security breaches. Any gateway into a network-connected device can open doors to the entire network. Depending on the type of access provided, compromised devices can be mined for data, or even remotely controlled by outside parties.