Scottish police to undergo investigation over facial recognition use

August 5, 2015 - 

Watchdogs will analyze around 500 cases when Police Scotland used facial recognition technology in an effort to identify images of individuals captured on CCTV, mobile phones or police officer body cameras, according to a report by Herald Scotland.

The move comes a couple months after Police Scotland 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.

HM Inspector of Constabulary will lead a case-by-case investigation of the facial recognition practice, which has raised concerns about privacy rights.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson ordered the watchdog to conduct the review after the Scottish Liberal Democrats used Freedom of Information laws to show how frequently Police Scotland are using facial recognition technology and how the practice could result in the “mass surveillance” of any individual captured on CCTV.

According to the Freedom of Information data revealed in May, Police Scotland had used facial technology on 440 instances. This figure has since increased to 494, HMICS said.

The watchdog will ask eight “key research questions” including whether each of the 494 cases was considered legal and consistent with the force’s own policies.

The investigation will also determine how the Police Scotland’s use of facial search technology compares to that of forces in England and Wales.

Finally, watchdogs will probe Police Scotland’s record-keeping and oversight arrangements to determine, “how are ethical issues considered”?

“The details of the HMICS Audit and Assurance review into the use of this new software by Police Scotland are promising,” said Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes. “This is new territory for public bodies. Without the right regulations and safeguards, there is a real risk that our civil liberties become compromised.

“There are strict rules on indiscriminately taking and cross-referencing our fingerprints and DNA but the same rules do not apply to the use of images on the UK-wide Police National Database.”

Police Scotland confirmed it has been using facial recognition software since last year to identify people captured on CCTC and other cameras with images on the UK-wide National Police Database, which contains 18 million images.

Police also uploaded more than 600,000 custody mugshots to the database when suspects were charged.

The force has defended its practices, stating that it used the facial search technology for “intelligence development purposes”, as well as emphasized that the custody mugshots were “weeded” off the National Police Database if a suspect’s proceedings were dropped or if the court ruled them as being not guilty.

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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.