UK Science and Technology Committee calls for pause of live facial recognition trials

UK Members of Parliament on the government’s Science and Technology Committee are urging the Home Office to halt all trials of live biometric facial recognition so that adequate legal footing for them can be established, diginomica reports.

The technology is used by police in England and Wales, and the Home Office announced a plan to trial facial recognition for finding missing persons this week.

The legal basis for the use of live or automatic facial recognition has been called into question by a growing number of respected, independent bodies, according to the report. The Information Commissioner has warned that a continuation of current practices could lead her to file a legal challenge against the Home Office, and the government’s independent Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) earlier this year recommended nine principles as a policy guidance framework, saying the trials lacked independent oversight and governance. The government’s Biometrics Commissioner and Forensics Science Regulator told the committee in March that trials should not continue in present conditions, and that the retention of numerous facial images for biometric matching could be defeated if challenged in the courts.

The Science and Technology Committee is recommending that these and other concerns should be resolved before any further deployment of automatic facial recognition.

“The proper use, provision and regulation of biometrics and forensics are key if the criminal justice system is to function effectively,” argues Committee Chair Norman Lamb. “The Government might claim to “strongly support” the Forensic Science Regulator Bill but its actions do not meet its words. Now is the time for action.

“The legal basis for automatic facial recognition has been called into question, yet the Government has not accepted that there’s a problem. It must. A legislative framework on the use of these technologies is urgently needed. Current trials should be stopped and no further trials should take place until the right legal framework is in place.”

In a report, the Committee noted that police have not made significant progress towards complying with a court order to delete many of the images in biometric databases, despite the court order to do so having been handed down in 2012. It is unclear, according to the report, if police are aware of the requirement to review custody images every six years, or they are struggling in attempts to do so, but the committee says resources for manual review have not been provided by the government.

“The Minister previously promised improvements to IT systems that would have facilitated automatic deletion,” the report says. “Such improvements now appear to have been delayed indefinitely. As such, the burden remains on individuals to know that they have the right to request deletion of their image. As we stated in 2018, this approach is unacceptable and we agree with the Biometrics Commissioner that its lawfulness requires further assessment.”

Home Office Biometrics Minister Baroness Williams said last year that the system would be upgraded “in the medium term.”

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