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Leicestershire Police expand use of face recognition technology

Police in Leicestershire, UK are now using facial recognition hardware that scans the characteristics of a known offender or suspect’s face and matches them against facial images stored in databases available to law enforcement, according to a report by Leicester Mercury.

The move comes a few months after Leicestershire Police tested the facial recognition technology at the Download rock festival, which successfully led to reducing crime to a three-year low with 60 offences reported to the police.

Leicestershire’s Chief Constable Simon Cole said the technology is as significant a breakthrough for policing as fingerprinting and DNA coding technologies.

Despite this, Cole said that the police force’s use of the facial recognition technology to scan the faces of 90,000 people at the music festival drew considerable criticism from the public.

Police decided to test out the technology because it believed the festival would be targeted by known thieves who commit thefts at festivals.

Cole defended the technology’s use at the festival as well as predicted the technology would eventually be deployed by other police forces and private companies.

“The technology exists now, we can’t pretend it doesn’t,” Cole said. “Looking to the future, I anticipate the kind of companies which run big events, including sports stadiums, will be exploring how they can use this technology.”

“I think it’s important the police are part of that exploration. One hundred years ago we were working out what fingerprinting could offer us and how definitive they were. We are at exactly the same point with facial recognition technology now.”

Cole also pointed out that one condition of entry to many venues and public events is that attendees will be photographed or recorded on CCTV and that they can be searched, all of which is stated on the back of the event ticket.

The Leicestershire police force first announced in July 2014 it was using the facial recognition system to scan suspects caught on CCTV, officer body-worn cameras or other visual recordings.

The images are then matched against the force-run database of the more than 90,000 people who have passed through its custody suites in the past few years.

All data on the force’s database, including photographs and personal details, are retained regardless of whether a detained person is released without charge or cleared by a court of any crime.

UK laws do not currently require police forces to erase the biometric data of the innocent from the database, said Cole, adding that there has been a considerable backlash to the police force’s decision to retain people’s data.

Meanwhile, many civil liberties organizations believe UK legislation has failed to keep up with advanced technological developments such as facial recognition.

“As technologies like facial recognition advance at lightning speed, the lack of strict legal safeguards governing their use becomes more conspicuous and alarming,” said Bella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty. “Liberty does not oppose the targeted use of CCTV when necessary and proportionate – but police retention of innocent people’s data combined with blanket use of body-worn cameras and facial recognition creates a frighteningly intrusive mix, and it’s not difficult to see how harm may result.

“We urgently need public debate about the parameters of new surveillance technology and stringent legislative regulation. Without them, how can we be sure our privacy is being given the consideration it deserves?”

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