The Australian Federal Police has dismissed Orwellian fears about facial recognition, advocating the biometrics technique as a critical piece of the law enforcement toolset for protecting citizens.
"From a Big Brother perspective, the brother is not that big in this space," AFP facial identification team leader, Jason Prince, said at the Biometrics Institute Asia Pacific Conference in Sydney.
"There are a lot of things that are said in the press about what might happen, but if you could see it from the inside, it's a little bit disappointing."
Algorithms for facial recognition are far from 100 per cent accurate, but still provide a valuable input into police investigations about fraud and other areas, Prince said.
Even if the error rate is 70 to 80 per cent for a given algorithm, he said, that means there is a 20 to 30 per cent chance "we're actually going to find that person just from the face."
Peter Williams, a senior adviser on biometrics in the Attorney-General's Department, agreed that biometrics is one tool of many for identifying criminals.
"Biometrics isn't the solution, but it is a solution to protecting personal identifying information."
In an identity theft situation, facial recognition can quickly help police determine that someone is not who they say they are and is using stolen ID data, Prince said.
Without effective biometrics, "we really do spend a lot of resources and a lot of time and know things that we don't need to know..." he said.
Interoperability of biometrics data among government agencies assists both fraud victims and law enforcement, providing great efficiencies for police and privacy for citizens, he said.
"It allow us to focus the resources ... on those key areas where we can get the most return on investment," he said.