Victorian government pushes back on in-classroom surveillance
Source: ZD Net, 14/02/2019
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino wants the few private
schools using the surveillance tech to undertake rigorous privacy
assessments and ensure students have explicit guardian or parental
consent to participate.
The Australian government in August last year kicked off a trial that
saw surveillance cameras placed in classrooms to monitor if students
were in attendance.
The now-completed trial took place in a few private schools in the
state, and the funding was accounted for at a federal level. According
to the Digital Rights Watch -- a charity aimed at educating on and
upholding the digital rights of Australians -- the next phase of the
trial was to roll out the program to state-run schools.
The initiative would involve the placement of cameras within
classrooms that scan the faces of students and then compare the images
against photos kept on file. Any instances of missing students would
then be reported.
However, Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has moved to block
the initiative from being rolled out, calling it `Big Brother-like`.
With concerns over the privacy of students and the level of consent
kids are capable of providing, Victoria`s Information Commissioner
Sven Bleummel told ABC RN Drive that he personally wouldn`t let his
He explained the tech that would be in classrooms would not just be
for initial roll call in the morning, rather they would be constantly
scanning the students throughout the day.
`We have to make some fundamental choices about the society we live in
and the idea that our children should consider it normal to be in a
fairly constant state of surveillance, I think is a rather unhealthy
one,` he told ABC.
Additionally, the Victorian government wants schools to undertake a
rigorous privacy assessment of the surveillance technology and receive
explicit, informed consent from parents and carers.
`The second category of risk is the much more understandable and
tangible risk of information being secure,` Bleummel said, pointing to
the security concerns brought up by the Australian government`s My
Health Record initiative.
He said he was concerned that although the system itself may be
strongly encrypted, the biometric information is still captured.
`Unlike a password, you can`t reset your facial geometry,` he added.
On the topic of consent, Bleummel said parental sign off isn`t a
sufficient safeguard, particularly when parents might feel obliged to
say yes only to avoid having their child ostracised, posing the
question that it might not be a fully voluntary consent given.
Another issue with consent, according to the Information Commissioner,
is the length and complexity of the terms and conditions in documents
that provide such services, pointing to social media sites as one
example, saying people often do not actually know what it is they`re
`Fundamentally, we believe that students have a right to not be
recorded without their -- or their guardian`s -- consent,` Digital
Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton told ZDNet.
`It`s imperative that every parent or guardian understand just what is
at stake here. Constant monitoring of their child`s face, along with
the very real possibility of a mass data breach, should be of concern.
This is not the world we want to build for our children.`
The Department of Home Affairs is currently responsible for the
operation of a central hub of a facial recognition system that will
link up identity-matching systems between government agencies in
The Australia-wide initiative will allow state and territory law
enforcement agencies to have access to the country`s new face matching
services to access passport, visa, citizenship, and driver licence
images from other jurisdictions.
The Face Verification Service (FVS) is a one-to-one image-based
verification service that will match a person`s photo against an image
on one of their government records, while the Face Identification
Service (FIS) is a one-to-many, image-based identification service
that can match a photo of an unknown person against multiple
government records to help establish their identity.
Access to the FIS is limited to police and security agencies, or
specialist fraud prevention areas within agencies that issue
passports, as well as immigration and citizenship documents.
The Department of Home Affairs told a Parliamentary Joint Committee on
Intelligence and Security in May it had purchased a facial recognition
algorithm from a vendor to be used for the FIS, but claimed immunity
on disclosing the contracted vendor.