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Speech: Statutes Amendment Use of Facial Recognition System Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:20): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise on behalf of the Greens to call on this parliament to protect problem gamblers from predatory practices. We have canvassed this issue previously, back when the government and the Labor opposition made a deal behind closed doors to ram through the so-called 'gambling reform legislation' about a year ago.

At that time, as part of this deal the Labor opposition secured provisions that gaming machines are now required to be fitted with facial recognition systems. In theory, this can be used as a tool to help problem gamblers; however, in practice we have ample evidence that, left to their own devices, gaming venues may not necessarily use this technology for such a purpose—or at least, not exclusively for such a purpose. I refer the council to my previous comments on this matter, when I said:

This bill will decide how we use that facial recognition technology, whether we use it for good or allow it to be used for evil.

The current version of that act does not prohibit the use of facial recognition technology on poker machines to be used only to minimise harm. Indeed, by being silent on that, the act allows it to be used for evil. My quote continues:

…it certainly leaves this technology wide open to being exploited by those who seek to make money and create more gambling rather than less. Technology cannot be value neutral unless we make sure that it is…

In this case, the parliament can make sure that facial recognition technology is made less harmful when it comes to poker machines in this state. We will have only ourselves to blame should we not act.

At the time that my previous amendments to the original legislation were removed it was seen and agreed by all sides that no-one intended that technology to be used to groom gamblers. However, in the deal made behind closed doors between Labor and Liberal, that issue had not actually been canvassed. When the crossbenchers attempted to make amendments, quite reasonable amendments to minimise gambling harm in this state, every single amendment we sought to put up was rejected.

That legislation soon comes into effect. The Casino extension opens this week, and the regulations have reflected the concerns raised by the Greens and the crossbenchers that the facial recognition technology be used to minimise harm, and that there be prohibitions placed on it being used to groom gamblers. However, those protections are currently only in regulations and not in the letter of the law in the act. We are relying on goodwill and good practice as an article of faith, rather than something this parliament can fix.

Indeed, gambling venues have hailed facial recognition technology as a return to 'the old Vegas days'. I refer the chamber to the words of the Star Casino's surveillance chief regarding facial recognition technology after it was installed in the Casino:

[it] will also be incorporated into our customer service where we can recognise customers and welcome them back personally, telling them their favourite drink is waiting at the bar.

No doubt with that technology they will know exactly what that favourite drink is. Outside of this being an obvious grooming of gamblers, it is actually downright creepy. We have been told that this technology is supposed to be aimed at enforcing barring orders for problem gamblers, so why have we been reticent to ensure that the technology cannot be used to create new problem gamblers?

The use of facial recognition technology is often used for so-called 'customer service'—and I use that term quite loosely. It has been evidenced in a showcase in Las Vegas and was reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, by a journalist named Bailey Schulz, who raised quite significant concerns. I again urge members to refer to my previous speeches on this matter. The industry showcase in Las Vegas did outline that 'new Vegas' intention, and the displays in that showcase showed the title of the game easily blending into the background amid the lights and sounds of slot machines.

However, with a press of the button, live camera footage of you as the player could appear on the screen, with digital dots lining your mouth, eyes and face. You would not see it, but the technology behind that would come through with the information of 'existing user found', with all your details attached. Operators are most excited about the money-making potential of facial recognition technology in poker machines.

I have to say, it is quite concerning that this technology has not come into play in this state without the very safeguards that will ensure it is not used to groom problem gambling rather than prevent it. Casinos are already able to gather more data than ever before, but with this facial recognition technology there could be even further intrusion. Indeed, instead of just tracking players with a loyalty card, they may even be able to track players who forget their card or those who are not enrolled in a rewards program.

As another industry figure stated, 'Right now, casinos don't have a way to incentivise an uncarded player,' but facial recognition technology does open it up so that they can start reinvesting in and understanding those players. These reinvestments could keep players coming back for more. When we know that 'coming back for more' often means 'coming back for more losses', we should be doing everything we can in this parliament to reduce that harm.

This type of technology cannot only be used to reduce harm. While this new technology is welcome if it is used to assist with the barring system and to ensure problem gambling does not become worse and is ameliorated, it may well turbocharge the potential for gambling harm. So I urge members to reconsider this particular issue as we roll out the new piece of legislation, to ensure, as we have all agreed in principle and as the current regulations state, that this facial recognition technology be used solely for harm minimisation. We need to ensure that and enshrine that by placing it in the act rather than trusting the regulations. Let's enshrine our good intentions in the actual legislation so it can never be easily circumvented. I commend the bill to the council.

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