Scottish Police admit to using facial recognition software, maintaining image database

May 26, 2015 - 

Police Scotland has admitted to using face recognition technology to identify individuals captured on CCTV cameras and from other sources, as well as retaining these images in a database, according to a report by Computing.

In a statement in response to a freedom of information (FoI) request, Police Scotland said it has used the technology 440 times, in addition to maintaining a database of 334,000 photographs of individuals taken into custody.

The police force has defended its use of facial recognition technology, which it has been using since 2014.

“Facial search is an intelligence tool that can be used for intelligence development purposes,” said DCI Russell Penman of Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division. “It is not used for formal photographic identification procedures, although it does provide intelligence around the suspected identity of an individual whose image has been taken and searched.”

Many civil rights proponents are upset by the revelation of the police’s use of facial recognition technology, including Scottish Liberal Democrats’ justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes, who initiated the FoI request.

“Without adequate safeguards, there is nothing to stop the police using from using this technology for mass surveillance,” said McInnes. “The combination of this database with the new facial recognition software has triggered concerns about the protection of our civil liberties.

Although the police said the photos are erased from the database once court proceedings are dropped or the suspect is found not guilty, McInnes argues that the practice raises key concerns about how these images will be used in concert with facial recognition software in the future.

“It could be used to identify protestors at political events or football fans, stifling freedom of speech,” said McInnes. “I also have real concerns that the privacy of innocent people could be compromised and they could be exposed to the risk of false identification.”

Many are also concerned about the cross-matching of personal data by the authorities that would potentially infringe their privacy. The National Police Database currently has 18 million photographs of citizens and many are worried that these images will eventually be fed into a facial recognition database.

The Scottish National Party previously announced it will develop a “super database” that would store the health records of Scottish citizens and share this information with other government bodies — a plan which many privacy advocates believe is nothing more than the government’s way of inconspicuously creating a national ID scheme.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.