New biometric photo technology will help police nab crims captured on CCTV
Shadowy figures caught on CCTV could soon be identified by police, thanks to new technology capable of matching crime footage to images of people arrested previously.
Police plan to add thousands of CCTV images of unidentified crime suspects to a new photo database that will be able to match unknown offenders' distinguishing features – such as tattoos or scars – to existing arrest records.
Plans for the new "integrated biometric technology solution" are at an early stage, but have been unveiled in a "request for information" document to companies who could potentially supply the technology behind the system.
According to the pre-tender document, the new system would be used to store 1.5 million existing photos of 800,000 offenders previously photographed by police, ID photos of 245,000 firearms licence holders, and images of 200 missing people.
Each year police expect to add about a further 50,000 prisoner images, 9500 new and 10,000 renewal firearm licence holder photos, and 300 more missing person pictures.
Police expect the new system, which will replace technology that has been in use since 2009, will also allow them to to add about 7500 "suspect" images to the database each year.
A police spokeswoman said those suspects would be "unknown offenders" captured on CCTV footage that police were attempting to identify.
That identification process could be helped by other aspects of the planned database – computerised facial recognition and the ability to search the police photo records for distinguishing features such as tattoos, scars and other body marks.
Police currently record details of scars, marks and tattoos in written form, meaning the new system would be a major step forward in "biometric identification".
As well as helping identify offenders from CCTV, the new "biometric image-to-image system" would help identify unknown victims from body marks, the tender document said.
The police spokeswoman said that, under the new system, police would photograph prisoners' distinguishing marks at the time of their arrest, "when other identifying particulars [fingerprints and head-and-shoulders photographs] are obtained".
A spokesman for the Privacy Commissioner said biometric projects of the type being proposed by police were "a highly sensitive area of personal information and require care to ensure the data collection is appropriate and the data stored is kept very secure".
The spokesman said the project was only "at the initial planning stage", but the advice to agencies undergoing such projects was that they should undertake a "privacy impact assessment" so they fully understood the impact it would have on individuals.
A spokesman for the NZ Council for Civil Liberties said he was not able to comment because he had not looked into details of the police's request for information.
Police said the "suspect" images from CCTV footage would be on an internal police database only, and the planned storage of the images did not raise any civil liberty issues.