National | Discrimination

Risk Māori and Pasifika will face discrimination over police’s expanding use of biometric data - expert

This article was first published by RNZ.

There is a real risk of discrimination against Māori and Pasifika with police’s expanding use of biometric data, a Māori technology and data ethicist says.

Police are looking to boost their technology for scanning and storing biometric identification data - including fingerprints, scars, tattoos and faces.

There are also plans to upgrade the existing 50 fingerprint scanners at police stations and add another 130 portable scanners.

Meanwhile, the police have just finished destroying thousands of unlawfully obtained fingerprints, ordered by the Privacy Commissioner.

Dr Karaitiana Taiuru, a leading Māori AI and data ethicist, told Midday Report people of colour were unfairly discriminated against by biometric technology used by police.

“We’ve already seen a history of Māori being fingerprinted and photographed at such high proportions and the police didn’t actually have a right to take that data in the first place.

“My other concerns are that the police haven’t engaged with their own internal expert team and nor with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.”

He said it was unclear where the identification data such as Māori tā moko would be stored.

“Will it be stored in New Zealand? Will it be stored overseas? Who will have access to those images? More importantly, the staff who are using the system, how will they differentiate the different patterns, Māori patterns?

“I suspect we could see some false positives, so people being falsely accused of being a person that they’re not and we know this happens frequently in America with people of colour.”

The police tender shows officers expect to capture 600,000 images a year of fingerprints left behind at crime scenes.

Taiuru wanted to know how police would accumulate that large number of prints and whether they were justified in doing so.

“I find it very concerning that they’re going ahead and now they’re looking for more intimate information about individuals without consultation.”

He said he was worried police had not learnt despite having to recently destroy unlawfully obtained prints.

Police did not directly respond to Taiuru’s concerns when asked by RNZ.

In a statement, a spokesperson said police were not seeking greater fingerprinting powers.

“We are seeking information on what devices are available in the market which would enable us to replace a physical system with a digital system capable of meeting current and future needs.

“It is important to note that we are only in the Request for Information (RFI) stage of this process and no decisions have been made.”