UK Home Office considers increasing regulations for facial recognition use

October 1, 2015 - 

The UK’s Home Office is considering increasing the regulations for retention of face recognition records, following criticisms from privacy adovacates that claim police are illegally uploading photographs on a national database, according to a report by UKAuthority.com.

In March, the UK’s Science and Technology Committee released a report in which MPs condemned the practice — particularly the act of retaining photos of people who were never charged — which a high court judgement ruled was unlawful.

The Committee found that more than 12 million custody photos stored on the Police National Database which had been entered without efficient testing or oversight.

Although some police forces, such as the Met, stopped entering new images onto the database until the guidelines were established, several other forces continued to enter images during this period.

In its report, the committee said there is a “worrying lack of government oversight and regulation”, recommending that independent Biometrics Commissioner Alastair MacGregor assume the role.

MacGregor is currently overseeing the retention and use of DNA and fingerprints, but not face recognition.

In its response to the criticisms, the Home Office has suggested that it will make changes once it completes an investigative review of the retention of facial images.

“The Home Office is currently undertaking a policy review of the statutory basis for the retention of facial images and consulting key stakeholders,” said the Home Office. “As part of that review, we are considering the role of the Biometrics Commissioner. The government will of course publish the findings of the review and consult formally as appropriate.”

“I recognize the need to develop a strategic approach to the use and retention of biometrics,” said Mike Penning, Minister of State for Policing. “This approach should recognize that biometrics is fast changing and provides opportunities for better secure identity verification, better public services, improved public protection and the ability to identify and stop criminals. This should be balanced against safeguarding the rights of the individual from unnecessary intrusion.”

The committee’s report also questioned why the system for matching facial images had not been thoroughly tested prior to being used.

MacGregor told the committee that the facial matching system was being used by police “in the apparent absence of any very rigorous testing of the reliability of the facial matching technology that is being employed”.

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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.