Australia to adopt facial recognition technology to tackle problem gambling

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A new method to tackle gambling problem among guests has been adopted by eastern Australia’s Warilla Hotel by using a small camera equipped with facial recognition software.

The new technology will be implemented across all gambling establishments in the state of New South Wales early in the following year. It employs artificial intelligence (AI) to identify addicts who have requested to be banned from betting sites.

The people who support this method claim that it can prevent annual losses of gambling addicts that run for billions of dollars. While some people like Samantha Floreani, program lead at the non-profit group Digital Rights Watch claim the technology is invasive.

Floreani said, “The technology is invasive, dangerous and undermines our most basic and fundamental rights.”

“We should be exceptionally wary of introducing it into more areas of our lives and it should not be seen as a simple quick-fix solution to complex social issues,” she added.

The facial recognition systems will utilize AI to compare live photographs of a person against a database of images from a gallery of persons who willingly signed up for a “self-exclusion” scheme.

A staff member is informed if the camera spots someone in the self-exclusion database so they can be prevented from entering casinos or led away from slot machines in hotels and pubs.

Director of AHA NSW, John Green said, “We think this is the best opportunity we’ve got in preventing people who have self-excluded from entering the venues.”

While Green ensures that the data will be accessible by the police or the gambling venues, digital rights organizations claimed that the technology might be used for wider surveillance and that it was useless at preventing problem gambling.

Floreani of Digital Rights Watch said, “People who opt into self-exclusion programs deserve meaningful support, rather than having punitive surveillance technology imposed upon them. And those who have not opted into these programs ought to be able to go to the pub without having their faces scanned and their privacy undermined.”

People vouching for facial recognition technology claim it is being used across the globe for various purposes and is helpful to keep public order, solve crime and even find missing people.

The facial recognition cameras will only be used to enforce the self-exclusion program, according to gambling industry organizations. But there are also new uses planned to be incorporated in the tech like identifying people banned for being too drunk in the upcoming draft law introduced in the parliament last month

Senior lecturer at Melbourne Law School Jake Goldenfein said, “There’s a capacity for scope creep, the capacity for this to facilitate further uses. Facial templates are not something we can change. If we lose control over our biometric information, it becomes particularly dangerous.”

The chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Tim Costello claims that use of facial recognition technology is the industry’s way of delaying reforms and is not likely to have a “practical effect” on gambling problems.

Facial recognition is coming under increasing criticism in Europe, the US, and other places. Microsoft and Amazon, for example, have stopped or limited their sales of the technology to the authorities.

Big retail companies like Bunnings and Kmart decided to stop using face recognition technology to monitor consumers in their stores earlier this year after Australia’s privacy authority started an investigation into whether they had violated the law.

Goldenfein said, “There’s so many ways to help problem gamblers that the idea that facial recognition technology is the solution is, frankly, preposterous.”