24 July 2023

ACT Policing pauses use of surveillance tool through 'abundance of caution' following privacy concerns

| Claire Fenwicke
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Both Police Minister Mick Gentleman and ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan were questioned over the use of Auror during budget estimates. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

ACT Policing and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have suspended the use of a widely employed surveillance tool, despite previously stating that adoption of the Auror software was consistent with privacy obligations.

As reported in Crikey, Freedom of Information documents revealed more than 100 AFP staff – including within ACT Policing – had used the information in Auror without a completed Privacy Impact Assessment.

Auror describes itself as a “retail crime intelligence platform” that collects information about customers, such as CCTV footage and licence plate numbers, and then allows retailers to share that data between themselves and police if they suspect shoplifters have targeted their stores.

It’s reportedly used in more than 40 per cent of Australian retailers, including Woolworths and Bunnings.

“Emails released to Crikey in an FOI request show that AFP staff were quick to take full advantage of the trove of data available through Auror long before the agency’s higher-ups became aware of its use, carried out privacy and security reviews or formally partnered with the company,” the publication reported.

“A 31 October 2022 Auror email said there were 118 AFP employees with active accounts, ‘most’ from the AFP’s ACT policing teams, according to a police staff member. ”

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ACT Policing Chief Police Officer (CPO) Neil Gaughan was asked about Auror’s use in the Territory during budget estimates hearings on Wednesday (19 July).

He said the agency had suspended its use as of 15 July, but felt it had been used appropriately up to that point.

“I’m of the view that the way we’re utilising it, there’s no issue,” CPO Gaughan said.

“But as an abundance of caution we’re going to stop using it until such time as the Privacy Impact Assessment is concluded, it’s well underway.”

He clarified police did not ingest any footage or data from ACT Government CCTV, and neither did Auror.

“So the only CCTV or still footage that goes into the platform … is from retailers, there’s no other ingestion of information,” CPO Gaughan said.

Police Minister Mick Gentleman was also asked whether any assessments had been done into the technology as part of the integration of the software.

“It is something I’ll need to check on in regard to the safety of personal information from ACT cameras,” he said.

“The Auror system, of course, is used quite widely across the ACT by retailers.”

The AFP declined to comment further.

Region also confirmed the ACT Government does not use the software in any capacity.

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The software’s use had previously been questioned during federal Senate estimates in May.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge had asked CPO Gaughan whether a Privacy Impact Assessment had been undertaken by the AFP before its use.

“The answer to your question is no, but we treat it the same way we treat the ingestion of CCTV capabilities from the ACT Government, including the trams, fixed cameras in the territory, buses and fixed vans, and also the same way that we treat the ingestion of CCTV capability and evidence from the general community,” CPO Gaughan responded.

“I will say, however, that all ACT Policing officers adhere to the relevant privacy and information-sharing legislation and protocols when dealing with personal information.”

CPO Gaughan said at that time the advice he had was that the software was consistent with the AFP’s privacy obligations, but he would take the question on notice.

“But I will say it is used to identify people who have engaged in criminal activity. It is used as a tool for us to actually prosecute people that engage in recidivist offending,” he said.

“This technology is used by most police forces on the east coast and also by the New Zealand police force.”

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When I saw the headline and accompanying pic, I thought ‘Why would ACT Policing use Mick Gentleman to surveil anything?’ – then I read the article and found it was referring to a different tool.

Micky needs to retire and let the ICT complexity thinker have a go. We could even out him on the payroll via the new HRIMS. Oh wait that didn’t quite, err….

Greens are wack, more concerned with the privacy of serial shoplifters, than the increased cost of living passed onto consumers to cover the value of those stolen goods.

The shoplifters are whatever fraction of the problem they are. The question is whether 40% of Canberra businesses, multiple police forces and unknown government agencies, and a private company need to be able to track everyone’s movements and shopping.

The 15 Woolworths stores in Canberra suffered theft of 5.27 million items worth $16.27 million last year. This sounds like a fraction to richy rich Greens, but is a substantial amount for the average shopper to cover.

I am hoping that Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman is in wind down mode preparing for his exit BEFORE the next election and will announce his intentions soon. I am also hoping that other disinterested and non-performing Labor MLA’s are winding down and preparing their exits as well.
All political parties need renewal. Some parliamentarians just don’t know when to quit, hanging around too long and overstaying their welcome. A bit like the drunk at the party who refuses to leave.
Labor and its management need to be a little bit more robust and transparent, especially to its members. Renewing processes and showing the door to those who are stale and unrepresentative is the norm for any political party. Maybe I am being a bit unkind, calling out Mick as there are other non performing and accident prone Labor MLAs. Labor really really does need renewal.
The Liberals are in the same predicament but worse.
Labor can thank the laziness and ineptitude of the Liberal opposition for their longevity. The Liberals are a Party with no ideas who rely on media to do their job.
I also note that ACT Police Commissioner Neil Gaughan is all puffed up standing next to Mick in the photo above. Looking important but confused. All this while pretending that the Auror software was above board and complied with privacy laws.
I can’t wait to see this claim tested in court. Could this be another Robodebt inquiry set up by the AFP to shame the less fortunate in our society?

Seems the real issue here is the leadership team in the AFP was not aware of the use, what kind of leadership and supervisory structure do they have. Have to say seems to me that ACT Policing could do with a good review – this on top of the different “opinions” on what is required to lay a charge – falling standards?

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