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Academics blast “legal vacuum” around facial biometrics use by British police


The use of facial recognition by police in Britain are a costly use of public funds that should be subject to more rigorous testing and transparency, according to research by a pair of academics in England and Australia and reported by Phys.org.

Dr. Joe Purshouse of the University of East Anglia School of Law and Professor Liz Campbell of Monash University authored the report, which appeared in the February 8 issue of the Criminal Law Review. They say Met Police’ trials have cost £200,000 (US$259,000), while trials by South Wales Police cost £2.6 million ($3.36 million).

“These FRT trials have been operating in a legal vacuum. There is currently no legal framework specifically regulating the police use of FRT,” says Purshouse, according to Phys.org.

“Parliament should set out rules governing the scope of the power of the police to deploy FRT surveillance in public spaces to ensure consistency across police forces. As it currently stands, police forces trialling FRT are left to come up with divergent, and sometimes troubling, policies and practices for the execution of their FRT operations.”

The UK Home Office has received frequent criticism for failing to address the perceived legal vacuum.

The researchers are also concerned with the inclusion “persons of interest,” who may not be suspects or missing persons, in watch lists. They also say those with old or minor convictions, ethnic minorities or women could be disproportionately affected by facial recognition, and expressed concerns about the technology’s accuracy.

“There appears to be a credible risk that FRT technology will undermine the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of already over-policed groups,” Purshouse says.

They conclude that the technology’s increasing use is occurring without an adequate understanding of its complex consequences.

The performance of the facial recognition technology used by South Wales Police has improved, but is remains uninspiring in the field, according to a recent report. The trials are being investigated by the UK’s Information Commissioner and legally challenged on multiple fronts.

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