Review Of Facial Recognition Technology

The Privacy Commissioner has announced an inquiry into Foodstuffs' trial of facial recognition technology (FRT) in 25 of its North Island supermarkets.  The inquiry demonstrates the Privacy Commissioner's interest in the use of biometrics and its outcome will likely need to be considered by agencies in relation to their own use of FRT.

The inquiry intends to monitor the extent to which Foodstuffs' FRT trial complies with the Privacy Act, and will inform the Privacy Commissioner's assessment of the effectiveness of the use of FRT in the relevant supermarkets.  The inquiry will monitor a number of issues, including:

  • The sufficiency of the privacy and data protection safeguards and controls the supermarkets have in place
  • Whether people having their faces scanned are confident their data is used safely (eg can they appeal being added to any watchlist)
  • Accuracy and bias
  • Staff training
  • What happens when the FRT system creates an alert that someone on the watchlist has been identified.

The Privacy Commissioner is interested in the public's views, particularly customers of the participating trial supermarkets.  Comments can be provided to

In the announcement of the inquiry, the Privacy Commissioner appears to consider that there is a distinction to be made between when FRT is used simply to identify an individual who wishes to access any device or a service (eg a laptop) versus when it is used in relation to an essential service to customers (such as a supermarket).  It will be interesting to see how this distinction, and the outcome of the inquiry more generally, is reflected in the Biometrics Privacy Code (announced by the Privacy Commissioner in late 2023) once that is released for consultation.  The Privacy Commissioner has previously indicated that the consultation will be released early in 2024.

If you'd like to discuss FRT or the use of biometrics further, get in touch with one of our team.