January 29, 2016 -
Edinburgh Council has announced a £1 million (US$1.4 million) initiative to upgrade the city’s CCTV surveillance network to include HD digital cameras with facial recognition capabilities, according to a report by Ars Technica.
The facial recognition software will scan faces in real time and matche them against a database of suspects, as well as capture vehicle registration numbers.
The new system, which aims to work as an integrated, centralized hub for Edinburgh’s CCTV cameras, will be designed to combat various minor offences as well as “allow individuals to be tracked while using public transport, spending time in shopping centres and participating in demonstrations.”
Upgrading the current analogue cameras to HD digital cameras will ensure that images can be rapidly analyzed and re-used, such as tracking people as they move around the city to provide a comprehensive record of where they went, and who they met.
If Edinburgh Council’s plan is successfully implemented, the upgraded CCTV network could be extended to the rest of south-east Scotland.
Meanwhile, watchdog group Big Brother Watch expressed “profound concern” with certain aspects of the plan.
“CCTV has been shown to be beneficial when investigating car crime over and above other forms of crime,” said Big Brother Watch CEO Renate Samson. “Knowing this, why Scotland wish to expand their system and add features such as the very intrusive facial biometrics to their CCTV system is unclear, particularly if they claim this is not about ‘snooping’.
“Introducing a system where cameras are deployed everywhere with added features such as facial recognition to the system may lead to CCTV becoming value for money for the council, but the interference to people’s privacy, particularly when facial biometrics are used should raise profound concern with people across Scotland.”
In response, Edinburgh councillor Joanna Mowat explained that residents understood the need for the upgraded CCTV system.
“I know there are concerns about civil liberties but I wonder if these are coming from people who are not aware of the amount of CCTV we have now,” said Mowat. “My understanding is that this technology will provide clearer images, particularly at lower-light levels. This is about increasing the quality rather than the extent of coverage.”
In related news, HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), Derek Penman, recommended that an independent commissioner be hired to oversee police use of fingerprint biometrics, DNA and photographs of suspects taken into custody, according to a report by the Evening Times.
Penman said the move could ensure “truly independent oversight” of Police Scotland’s use of biometrics.
It is just one of several recommendations Penman made following last year’s audit and review of Police Scotland’s use of the facial search capabilities within the UK Police National Database (PND).
Penman also called for ministers to reinforce the existing law and “close a potential legislative gap” related to the retention of images held by police.
HMICS was asked to conduct the review last year following issues raised by UK Biometrics Commissioner Alastair MacGregor regarding police forces using facial recognition software that matches custody mugshots with faces taken from CCTV images of crimes without a “proper and effective regulatory regime”.
Penman said that Police Scotland has been “fully compliant with its own policy around the use of PND, and also with Home Office and College of Policing guidance”.
The inspector found that Scottish force had performed 567 facial searches on PND from March 28, 2014 to July 8, 2015 in relation to 330 different probe images obtained from crime or incident scenes — all of which “were lawful, proportionate and necessary.”
The review also stated a need for improved legislation and better independent oversight regarding police use of biometrics throughout Scotland
Penman recommended that the Scottish Government work with PND and other bodies to possibly appoint an independent Scottish Commissioner “to address the issues of ethical and independent oversight over biometric databases and records held in Scotland”.
Additionally, Penman said that ministers should collaborate with police and the Scottish Police Authority to consider legislative provision over the retention and use of photographs by the police.