Tue. Aug 20th, 2019

Face recognition system rollout was too hurried, Queensland police report discloses

The biggest mass surveillance operation known to have been used by police in Australia was so rushed that it lacked the data to operate effectively, the ABC has learned.

But the Queensland Police Service tried to keep that a secret.

The facial recognition system used in Queensland during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games also had so few specific targets that it ended up being used for general policing.

Details of the surveillance system’s rollout were revealed in an evaluation report conducted by the Queensland Police Service (QPS) after the 2018 event.

The report, obtained by ABC News under Right to Information (RTI), showed none of the 16 high-priority targets requested as part of the operation could be identified.

“Difficulties were experienced in data ingestion into one of the systems with the testing and availability not available until the week Operation Sentinel [the Games security operation] commenced,” the report found.

“The inability of not having the legislation passed, both Commonwealth and state, in time for the Commonwealth Games reduced the database from an anticipated 46 million images to approximately eight million.”

Halfway through the Games, the technology was opened up to basic policing, which turned up only five identities out of the 268 requested.

“Given the limited requests from within the Games, opportunity to conduct inquiries for the general policing environment was provided to enable better testing of the processes and capabilities,” the report stated.

Protective security zones around Games venues gave police increased powers to detain, search and move people on, and 3,000 extra police officers were stationed on the Gold Coast at the time.

Michael Cope from the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties said it was a clear case of “scope creep”.

“It reminds people that all this legislation is always dressed up as trying to get bad people who are coming to murder us — it is not at all,” he said

Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said the public deserved to know the extent of surveillance methods being used by authorities.