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UK oversight group publishes ethics framework for police use of facial recognition


The UK government’s independent Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) has published an interim report outlining nine ethical principles forming a framework to guide the policy on and deployments of police facial recognition systems.

The “Ethical issues arising from the police use of live facial recognition technology” (PDF) report was written in response to a letter from group policy sponsor Alex Macdonald, who is head of the Home Office’s identity policy unit, requesting guidance. The BFEG was also recently tasked with considering the Home Office’s use of large and complex data sets.

The BFEG’s Facial Recognition Working Group authored the report, which says there is a need to differentiate between “errors and biases” inherent to the technology and those introduced by human operators. It also says that with the lack of independent oversight and governance of live facial recognition, police trials of the technology should follow the usual standards of experimental trials for rigorous and ethical scientific design.

The ethical principles relate to public interest, effectiveness, the avoidance of bias and algorithmic justice, impartiality and deployment, necessity, proportionality, impartiality, accountability, oversight, and the construction of watchlists, public trust, and cost effectiveness. In addition to the nine ethical principles, the report suggests nine specific questions on the same themes as the principles, arising from the use of live facial recognition by police as a non-exhaustive list for consideration.

The UK Information Commissioner also recently launched an investigation into the effectiveness and legality of facial recognition trials by British police, while the courts will eventually have their say in the matter.

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