Thursday, 2 October 2014

The asylum creeping in

What possible reasonable justification could there be for Auckland Transport's implementing a surveillance grid? Here's the reporting:
Surveillance technology that uses high definition cameras and software that can put names to faces and owners to cars is coming to Auckland.
The surveillance has the capability to also scan social media and news websites.
Auckland Transport, the regional transport provider, announced the multi-million dollar deal in June, and California's Hewlett-Packard Development Company said today it has the contract.
No dollar sum is given.
They call it a "visionary Big Data" project and in a statement said Auckland has selected HP "to drive groundbreaking future cities initiative".
All the data gathered by the cameras will be processed by HP cloud servers based in Palo Alto, California.
Auckland Transport's Chief Information Officer Roger Jones is quoted by HP as saying: "The safety and well-being of our citizens is always our top priority and the Future Cities initiative is a big step in the right direction".
The system "should not be used for surveillance or monitoring of specific individuals (whether or not identifiable by name, and whether not facilitated by supporting technology) except in respect of specific criminal acts or organised crime or other reasonably suspected criminal behaviour (including terrorism) on the basis of such evidence or reasonable suspicion of criminal offending," the principles state.
Police are also told they should not provide access to the data to any other agencies in New Zealand or abroad except where that complies in all respects with the terms of these surveillance principles and New Zealand law.
There's good case for traffic monitoring cameras for adjusting traffic light timing. There's possible case for surveillance cameras in bus and train stations so that security people can check back on the footage if there was an assault or theft. But face and licence plate recognition? Why?

This is the dumbest kind of dumb. Economists, left and right, love road user charging. Implementing road user charging properly, with time-of-day charging, would require a bit of monitoring of which cars are where and when. The biggest obstacle to that kind of system is worries about the government's using that collected data to track everybody. I've not worried about it, 'cause I couldn't imagine that the New Zealand government wanted to track everybody. And now Auckland Transport wants to put in face recognition systems for tracking everybody. Well, screw congestion charging then and build me more roads instead.

At least we're not as bad as Australia.
Despite concerns raised by dozens of academics, lawyers, rights groups, the dumped national security legislation monitor Bret Walker, SC, and human rights commissioner Tim Wilson, new national security legislation that will jail journalists and whistleblowers if they reveal information about covert "special" operations passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The legislation, which also enables the entire Australian internet to be monitored with just a single computer warrant, is a disgrace. Our Parliament, especially the Labor opposition, has failed us.
When I'd started reading about the Oz news, I reckoned NZ could do well by highlighting how Oz had fallen into the asylum and that Australians who care about freedom should move here. Then Auckland went and wrecked that plan. Thanks, Auckland.

Update: TransportBlog has a statement from Auckland Transport.
Update: AT have provided this statement
Auckland Transport publicly announced the agreement with HP at its June board meeting. The information was picked up by the NZ Herald which ran a story in July.

Auckland Transport currently has five video systems which it inherited, this will bring it down to one processing system.

We are not installing new cameras, this is a “back end” system for the approximately 1800 cameras we have access to covering intersections, railway and busway stations. Initially we will be doing a trial using 100 cameras.

The system will be used to monitor traffic flows, vandalism and safety. We will not be using any capability which identifies faces or number plates, our cameras do not have the ability to do that.

Let’s be very clear NO information is being sent to the United States. Information can be stored on our system in Auckland for a maximum of 7 days.

We are working through draft policies with the Privacy Commissioner and will make the policies public before any changes are made.

This is a $2million upgrade of a system we have had for 10 years, there is nothing new here other than that we are going to one processing system and we are introducing some automation.
I'm not sure this entirely makes sense. Surely facial recognition is a software rather than a hardware issue, so long as the cameras' resolution is good enough. If the cameras have very poor resolution, then it could be a hardware issue. But it's at least encouraging.

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