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Police use of facial recognition technology to be reviewed by ethics committee


The Leicestershire Police’s use of facial recognition technology is under review by the force’s new ethics committee, the Leicester Mercury reports. The technology was used to look for known thieves among attendees at the Download music festival in June.

Chief Constable Simon Cole compared the technology’s first implementation by the force to forensic breakthroughs like fingerprinting.

“One hundred years ago we were working out what fingerprinting could offer us and how definitive they were,” Cole told the Mercury. “We are at exactly the same point with facial recognition technology now. The discussion needs to be about what is reasonable. At the moment, a condition of entry to many venues and public events is that you will be photographed or recorded on CCTV and that you can be searched. Those terms and conditions are all there on the back of your ticket.”

Cole referred to the cost effectiveness of the system, which scanned but did not store the faces of attendees as they entered the festival, which police considered at risk from thieves who specialize in stealing at such large-scale public events as Download, which drew 90,000 people.

No thieves were identified, but controversy was stoked by criticism from Matt Bellamy, frontman of festival headliners Muse, and the newly formed ethics committee that will focus on the practice.

“The committee has set its priorities for the coming year with the view to reassuring the public around key areas of policing, including new technologies such as digital facial recognition,” said committee chairman Cillian Ryan.

The review takes place within a challenging context, as several other police practices will be reviewed, and Cole acknowledged a parallel national discussion regarding the retention of suspect data.

As previously reported, Scottish police are being investigated for their use of facial recognition technology and retention of images in a database, and San Diego Police have been accused of misusing facial recognition software.

The controversies may indicate that as facial recognition technology is adopted, clear and comprehensive policies will be necessary to direct law enforcement and allay public concerns.

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