Use of Facial Recognition Bill

Bills, In Parliament, Speeches

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 2 December 2020.)

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Leader of the Opposition) (21:12): I rise to speak on the bill and indicate that the opposition will be supporting this bill. The bill proposes an identical change to both the Casino Act 1997 and the Gaming Machines Act 1992. It provides:

…the licensee must not use information obtained by means of operating a facial recognition system—

(a) for a purpose other than identifying a barred person within the meaning of Part 6 of the Gambling Administration Act 2019; or

(b) other than is necessary for the purposes of reducing the harm caused by gambling.

I note that the government has also proposed restrictions on facial recognition technology in the Liquor Licensing (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2021, which proposes:

…the licensee must not use a facial recognition system at the licensed premises for or in connection with any of the following:

(a) encouraging or providing incentives to a person to consume liquor or gamble;

(b) customer loyalty programs relating to gambling;

(c) a lottery within the meaning of the Lottery and Gaming Act 1936 or the Lotteries Act 2019;

(d) any other purpose notified by the Commissioner to the system provider or licensee.

Whilst these are very broadly similar, the bill before us tonight differs in relation to not allowing for any other purpose, where the government states the purpose it is allowed for. Given they are, in effect, seeking to overcome the same evil—that is, for purposes other than using it for a barred person—the opposition is inclined to support the bill.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (21:14): I rise to speak in support of the Statutes Amendment (Use of Facial Recognition System) Bill introduced by our colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks. As members in this place and the community well know, we have been strong advocates in the space of gambling for a very long time. We acknowledge the harm that poker machines and gambling bring to the community and in particular to problem gamblers, who are shamelessly preyed upon by a multibillion dollar industry.

Governments are now heavily reliant on the massive revenue streams generated from gambling. That we know very well and was clearly demonstrated in this place when the last raft of gambling reforms passed through this parliament as a result of what can only be described as a cosy deal between the two major parties done behind closed doors—

The Hon. R.A. Simms: Absolute outrage!

The Hon. C. BONAROS: An absolute outrage, as the Hon. Robert Simms says—with absolutely zero consideration of the impacts that those changes would have on problem gamblers. The gambling industry is never one to miss an opportunity to prey upon and exploit the often vulnerable clientele who are lured into their venues on a hopeless quest to win, despite them knowing full well that the odds of this happening are absolutely stacked against them.

We have seen this with note acceptor technology being introduced to ensure that larger amounts can be swallowed up by poker machines faster than ever before. As we have said in this place before and will continue to say, that was the single most effective harm minimisation measure this state has ever had the benefit of, and it was undone in the blink of an eye via that cosy deal between the two major parties, a deal that not one single industry expert, stakeholder or group agreed to, not one that they were willing to back because they knew the impacts it would have on problem gambling.

No sooner were facial recognition systems installed on poker machines than the casino industry was using that same technology to groom gamblers to improve customer service by recognising them and welcoming them back, magically anticipating their favourite drink and machine and, more importantly, to track, log and understand their gambling behaviours and habits.

Facial recognition technology can be used to track players, dispensing with the need for the less technologically sophisticated loyalty cards, memberships or subscriptions they currently employ. It can also be used to accumulate more data than ever before about each player, their preferences and their behaviours. We do need to be constantly vigilant that the few protections we actually have in place to try to protect problem gamblers—and I say ‘try’ because they rarely do protect them—are used to protect, not further damage gamblers.

Facial recognition software was installed on poker machines in South Australia to better identify problem or barred gamblers, and of course we strongly support this bill restricting its use to this purpose and this purpose only. Whilst we have regulations in place in South Australia to ensure facial recognition software is not used for marketing or profiting purposes, such as we have seen overseas, these protections are only found in regulation and not in the legislation. As we know, entrusting such important protections to regulation is an extremely risky business, nearly as risky as gambling on poker machines and other games of chance, where the odds of winning are grossly stacked against the gambler.

We will continue on this side of the chamber, and I am sure together with our crossbench colleagues, to call for limits on gambling, to call for protections from gambling initiatives designed to promote gambling to an ever-growing clientele, such as the explosion of online gambling and gambling advertising that we are witnessing and the resultant harm this is causing a huge number of people in our community.

It would be remiss of me, given that I have mentioned online gambling, not to point out once again for the record that the cosy deal I spoke of was finalised in this place some two years ago now. We are yet to see that inquiry process initiate. That was part of the negotiations that were reached between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, an inquiry that was meant to consider and deliberate on the extent of the problem of online gambling. It is hard, very hard, to accept that that was nothing but a token gesture by both major parties because, if they were serious about the impacts of online gambling, surely by now not only would we have seen that inquiry undertaken but we would have the results, we would know what the data shows and we would be doing something about it.

But we have done zip. We have done absolutely nothing, and we have done nothing because apparently the two major parties cannot even agree on the composition of the committee members. That is how seriously the two major parties have taken the issue of online gambling, which was a major selling point of those reforms that we saw passed in this place two years ago at the expense of problem gamblers and at the expense of our single most effective harm minimisation measure, namely, note acceptors—an absolute disgrace.

It is for those reasons that SA-Best strongly endorses the bill, commends the Greens and the Hon. Tammy Franks for its introduction and commits to working closely with our crossbench colleagues on this issue to ensure that our gambling laws are in line with community expectations but, more importantly, also that they actually protect problem gamblers from gambling addiction and the evils of gambling.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer) (21:22): As I have spoken on many gambling issues before, I am the minority in this chamber. I accept that I have a very small ‘c’ catholic view in relation to gambling. I have expressed that view over almost 40 years and I continue to have that view. I strongly support that very small percentage of people who do have a problem with gambling, in terms of better ways of providing assistance for those but, inevitably, in my view gambling is a recreation that is a matter of choice for individuals and they should be allowed to have that choice.

Increasingly—this is obviously not a debate about online gambling, although it has been referred to by the Hon. Ms Bonaros in her contribution—that is the challenge for the future as we see increasing numbers of our young people involved, but again it is a question of education and providing assistance for those who cannot control their recreational choices.

The reality with online gambling—and I expressed this view to the Hon. Mr Xenophon when he first discussed the issue with me back in the late nineties—is that if you think you are going be able to control the worldwide growth of online gambling from South Australia, then good luck to you, but I do not believe it is possible. It is a question of identifying and trying to assist those who have a problem in relation to their gambling addictions. Anyway, that is online gambling and that is not what this is about.

In relation to the rollout of facial recognition technology, I am advised by the Attorney-General, the commissioner and others who are active in this space that the commissioner has approved six facial recognition system providers and a further three applications are still pending the results of penetration testing in South Australia. At present, we have 234 gaming venues across South Australia and the Adelaide Casino which are now operating facial recognition technology. The commissioner was very pleased to note that a number of these gaming venues, whilst not required to install the technology, have also installed the technology to support their responsible gambling obligations.

So far I am advised that in excess of 79.3 million facial images have been compared, using this technology, against the barring data held by CBS, resulting in 2,583 faces being identified as a potentially barred person. In addition to existing signage which was required to be displayed at the entrance of gaming venues advising that facial recognition technology is in operation, additional signage has been made available in languages other than English to assist informing patrons that their image may be recorded.

CBS barring officers, who have a specialisation in psychology, work with gaming venue operators and barred persons so that appropriate action and assistance can be given. CBS inspectors are also regularly checking gaming venues to ensure the camera placement is optimal and detections are occurring. I am just briefly highlighting there that there is much good that is being done with the use of facial recognition technology.

The government’s position is not to support this particular bill, because in the government’s view the amendments are superfluous. As has already been outlined, we have already implemented regulations which prescribe that data collected by a facial recognition system must not be used for or in connection with encouraging or providing incentives to a person to gamble, customer loyalty programs, a lottery within the meaning of the Lottery and Gaming Act 1936 or the Lotteries Act 2019, identifying a barred person in respect of premises other than the licensed premises in relation to which the system is operating and any other purpose identified by the commissioner to the system provider or licensee.

So what is being called for in this legislation is already being done. I note the comments from the Hon. Ms Bonaros in relation to regulations, but she more than anyone I would have thought would recognise that regulations already implemented have the same power as legislation. There is a legal requirement in terms of the operations. These regulations exist, they are supported by the government and I assume all members of this particular chamber in terms of what is being achieved, and this legislation serves no useful purpose because it is already being achieved through the powerful legal instrument of the regulation, which is in force and is being implemented. As the commissioner has indicated, pleasingly, there are a number of venues that are not required to which are actually installing the technology as well.

As I said and as I have outlined, the CBS barring officers and others—inspectors—are, on advice from the commissioner, doing what they are required to do in terms of the appropriate implementation of the controls outlined in the current regulation. For those reasons, I am advised, the government is opposing the legislation, but we acknowledge that the majority of the numbers in this chamber have a different view.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (21:27): It has been sometime since I introduced this bill, and I thank those members who have made a contribution to the debate tonight. I note that this is unfinished business from those previous debates with regard to the bills the Hon. Connie Bonaros reflected upon. As I mentioned during my second reading speech, this issue does go all the way back to that deal that ran between Labor and the government, made behind closed doors, to ram through the so-called gambling reform legislation.

As part of that deal Labor required that there be provisions that electric gaming machines, EGMs, were fitted with facial recognition systems ostensibly for the purposes of harm minimisation. Certainly, that was how it was portrayed to the public. It was only under scrutiny from the Greens and the crossbenchers that it was revealed that indeed this technology is not values neutral. It can be used to groom gamblers as well as to ensure harm minimisation.

At the time I sought to amend that piece of legislation, but, as was the wont of the backroom deal, no amendments were entertained, no matter how sensible. Of course, the requirements and the exposure of the foolishness of the belief that this was a value free technology meant that the concerns raised by the Greens—that this technology not be used to groom gamblers—was put into the regulations.

So this is unfinished business because while the requirement to limit the use of facial recognition technology for the purposes of harm minimisation, to identify problem gamblers who should not be allowed inside a venue is welcome, such a requirement is only temporary while it remains only in regulations. As I raised at the time, when we originally had this debate, the gambling industry of course will want facial recognition technology not just for harm minimisation but, indeed, to groom gamblers.

To refresh members’ memories on just what this technology looks like, here are a few examples: let us look at technology offered by ntech lab. Their facial recognition system is called FindFace. FindFace is marketed to casinos as follows, ‘Recognise VIP guests as soon as they enter the casino, and provide the highest level of service.’ Below this, they state that with FindFace casinos can see ‘up to two times the potential increase of the average bill using personalised offers.’ It goes on to spruik the benefits of this VIP guest identification with FindFace stating:

Providing high quality services to VIP guests is a guarantee of their loyalty. Get to know important guests and exceed their expectations. Knowing the history of guest visits, win their heart personalising your services. Make them come more frequently and increase the average spend.

Other facial recognition technology spruikers, such as Konami Gaming Vice-President Greg Colella, told a reporter that facial recognition technology for casinos and gambling venues could:

…create an anonymous ID for an individual player and then track how often that person visits the property, how much she or he usually spends, and which in-house restaurant the individual prefers. Data could be sent to hosts, who could offer customised incentives.

This is why we must be ensuring in our legislation—not in the regulations but in the act—that this technology, which is not values-free, is used to protect from harm, not to groom gambling and create that harm.

Indeed, the Treasurer has said basically, ‘Trust us, we’re the government,’ even though two years ago we were told, ‘Trust us, we’re the government and the opposition and we’re going to have an online gambling inquiry,’ a joint house committee that has now languished for those two years because apparently the idea of having myself and the Hon. Connie Bonaros on such a committee seems too frightening to even call the first meeting.

I do not trust you just because you are the government; I certainly do not trust this government on pokies reform. I do not believe that we can let this harmful technology sit in regulations with those scant protections when ostensibly the Attorney, in response to this, put these regulations in assuring the Greens that our concerns had been taken on board. I do not understand why they would be seen now as superfluous when for the Greens, for the crossbenches and for those who care about minimising harm in the gambling industry, these are essential protections that belong in the act.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

Bill taken through committee without amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (21:35): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.