The use of artificial intelligence (AI) by New Zealand police has come under scrutiny, highlighting the evolving tactics in modern policing. An Official Information Act request by Radio New Zealand has revealed the use of SearchX, an AI tool that connects suspects to their wider networks. SearchX is a key component of a NZ$200 million front-line safety program, developed in response to the death of police constable Matthew Hunt in West Auckland in 2020 and other recent incidents of gun violence.
However, the use of AI tools like SearchX has raised concerns about the invasive nature of the technology, potential biases, and the adequacy of New Zealand’s legal framework in protecting individual rights. The public has limited knowledge about the specific AI programs employed by the police, as some are undisclosed. Notably, the police have acknowledged using Cellebrite, a controversial phone hacking technology that extracts personal data from iPhones and Android devices, as well as BriefCam, which aggregates video footage and incorporates facial recognition and license plate tracking.
Privacy and biases are among the key issues raised by the use of these AI programs. Cellebrite and BriefCam allow law enforcement to access and analyze personal data without individuals’ knowledge or consent. While the current legislation permits the use of these programs by the police, concerns remain regarding their potential impact on privacy rights. Additionally, there is a tendency to assume that AI decisions are more accurate than human judgments, potentially leading investigations to focus solely on AI-identified suspects, disregarding other possibilities.
The algorithms used in AI programs have been found to exhibit biases, particularly in facial recognition software, which has disproportionately misidentified ethnic minorities. The use of AI in predictive policing also raises concerns, as it can perpetuate biases by relying on data from over-policed neighborhoods, neglecting crime occurring in other areas. The lack of a legal framework specifically addressing AI use in New Zealand further compounds these issues.
Although New Zealand Police have committed to the Australia New Zealand Police Artificial Intelligence Principles and the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand, which outline guidelines for responsible AI use, these codes are voluntary and leave gaps in legal accountability and police transparency. Notably, the police have yet to establish a point of inquiry for individuals concerned about the use of AI, as required by the charter.