South Australia Police says it will use the facial recognition capability of new security cameras installed in Adelaide, ignoring the local council’s request not to. 

Despite being asked not to track faces on the new cameras by the Adelaide City Council, SA Police says the technology will be useful.

The council is embarking on a $3 million, federally-funded upgrade of the city's ageing cameras. It will install new 360-degree units that allow the use of facial and number-plate recognition software, wherein faces can be matched to databases provided by the government or private companies.

The existing network is monitored by SA Police, which has been using facial recognition tools in certain investigations.

The council has been concerned by the lack of legal safeguards for facial recognition, and voted to ask police to provide a formal undertaking to delay its use of that feature.

“We are comfortable funding the CCTV camera upgrades,” Deputy Mayor Arman Abrahimzadeh says.

“We know that these upgrades are necessary for public safety and we've sought an assurance from SA Police to assure us that that facial recognition component won't be turned on until such time that legislation is in place.”

SA Police has not agreed to the call. 

“Facial recognition technology can significantly speed up investigations by automating the viewing of large volumes of vision, a painstaking task for investigators,” it told reporters.

“There is no legislative restriction on the use of facial recognition technology in South Australia for investigations.

“Should a facial recognition capability be available, investigators will consider the seriousness of the matter and evidentiary value when determining if it is appropriate to use the technology.”

Australia has no dedicated laws on the use of facial recognition technology. Last year, the Human Rights Commission called for a federal moratorium on the use of the technology in “high-risk settings”, such as law enforcement, until stronger safeguards can be legislated.

“If the police are going to use facial recognition technology, we need some safeguards in there around our privacy but also whether it works,” says SA Greens MLC Tammy Franks. 

“It seems to have had no public consultation, no public discussion and certainly no parliamentary discussion on how it will be implemented, used and utilised,” she said.

“We know that, for some demographics, more than four out of five identifications are incorrect.

“If you had fingerprints wrong, more than four out of five times, the police wouldn't be using it.”

Premier Peter Malinauskas has asked the Attorney-General's Department to conduct a review of current laws.

“I think every South Australian has confidence that when SAPOL are using facial recognition technology, it's all about keeping the community safe … [but,] wherever that occurs, we've got to make sure we've got the appropriate framework in place that people's individual liberties and privacy isn't compromised,” Mr Malinauskas said.

The council will vote on whether to begin the camera upgrades at the end of the month.