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Independent committee review of facial biometrics for UK government calls for police transparency


The UK government’s independent expert committee on AI and data-driven technology says it expects an appropriate degree of transparency from law enforcement in the country on its use of facial biometrics, according to a new report.

A 32-page report from the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) on facial recognition technology, part of the committee’s “Snapshot Series,” defines facial recognition and its uses, explains how accuracy is properly measured and thought of, and outlines the technology’s main benefits and risks. It goes on to examine the legal and regulatory context for facial recognition, in regards to both law enforcement and private sector use.

That section notes that while the legal basis for police use of facial recognition technology was finally clarified by a Cardiff High Court ruling last year, further clarity should be provided by a forthcoming opinion from the Information Commissioner’s Office on the King’s Cross deployment. Continuing questions about the adequacy of regulation covering police use of facial recognition in the UK is also noted, with the Surveillance Camera Commissioner noting that new technology may require changes in regulation that would bring facial recognition use by police closer to the rules for covert surveillance.

Benefits identified include security, efficiency and scale, while risks include threats to privacy, inaccuracy and bias, and power imbalances. Much more than many such reports, the CDEI report differentiates between different applications for verification and identification, and different types of errors.

The group brought together by CDEI to conduct the research is made up of 30 people, with the largest portion drawn from academia, along with several representatives from law enforcement, several from UK commissioner’s offices, including Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles, representatives from advocacy groups, one each from Yoti, Google and Microsoft, and two from FaceWatch. Home Office and the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport also participate.

In a final section on “What’s next for the governance of FRT?”, the committee asks how the public should be engaged on the matter, if there is a case for new laws to regulate the technology’s use by police, if the powers of oversight commissioners should be reviewed and clarified, how private sector use should be regulated, and what role there is for industry self-regulation. Final answers are not offered, but different opinions and ongoing processes to arrive at answers are considered.

Government considers biometric remote property sales processes

HM Land Registry writes in a blog post that cryptography and biometrics, combined with electronic identity credentials, can enable digital identity checks to prevent property fraud and confirm applicant’s identities while maintaining social distancing.

The opinion is shared by the Law Society, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) and the Chartered Institute for Legal Executives (CILEx), and they have been working with the conveyancing industry to find ways to facilitate property transactions during the pandemic.

The system described is a typical ID document check and selfie video for facial biometric matching, using a smartphone. The recent revelation that 79 percent of those using the Home Office’s EU settlement scheme rated it easy or fairly easy to use and the technology’s use for immigration systems at airports are cited as evidence that it can be effective for such processes.

This post was updated at 10:44am Eastern on June 3, 2020 to clarify that the researchers are not employees of CDEI.

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