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New regulations will help facial recognition but hard work remains, UK Commissioner says

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“Sunny uplands” are ahead for the facial recognition industry, but biometrics providers and integrators will have to be mindful of “crocodiles in the ravines” before they get there, UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter told the audience at the Global MSC Security online event on ‘AI and Analytics in Video Surveillance.’

The UK-based event was attended by participants from 30 different countries, who heard Porter predict a more permissive approach to regulating AI in the UK as GDPR ceases to apply there following Brexit.

Philip Ingram of Grey Hare Media discussed the role of CCTV surveillance camera footage in the reconstruction of events around the attempted assassination of former GRU operative Sergei Skripal in the UK, including the ultimate identification of the perpetrators. The tale brings up some points of potential debate around surveillance footage, such as how to coordinate footage from private and public cameras for investigations.

Derek Maltby of Global MSC Security interviewed Pelco VP of Sales for Europe and Africa Noel Sheeran about the company’s acquisition by Motorola Solutions earlier this year and the state of the market.

Porter, whose background includes law enforcement, counter-terrorism and business, and whose tenure as surveillance camera commissioner is due to end in December, reviewed the observations and guidance that come out of the Bridges lawsuit against the use of facial recognition by UK police.

Porter was one of several commissioners participating in the case as an ‘amicus curiae,’ but he says he learned several lessons from it. The court recognized the role of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Office and the code of practice it created in regulating live facial recognition. A basket of other laws and standards were also cited in the decision.

Porter urged those in the surveillance industry to ensure their compliance with the code of practice. If they do so, the live facial recognition can be lawful, in the right circumstances.

The court ruled that in the Bridges case, the police had not satisfied legal requirements related to who was on the watch-list and where they were being looked for, that they had not investigated the possibility of unequal treatment of different demographics by the technology, and that their process, separate from the technology, needed to be assessed.

Data protection is not the whole area of compliance concern where facial recognition is concerned, Porter reminded law enforcement in the audience. The full burden of compliance for public sector facial recognition deployments actually takes in several different laws that are unrelated to data protection, and several of those involve complex, multi-step processes themselves.

In a report being issued to police departments, Home Office and government ministers next week, Porter recommends a national procurement strategy for police, self-analysis capabilities for facial recognition systems, and national standards for the technology. Ethical oversight, even beyond the normally-considered legal statutes, is necessary, he says, but so are integrated impact assessments to replace the numerous assessments organizations are obliged to carry out for each implementation.

He also says he will urge his predecessor to continue his work on guidance for installers.

Ultimately, the technology “will and must be used,” Porter said, but police require solid boundaries to know what they are expected to do to use it properly.

“This is technology that can save lives, make life better for us all, so let’s be sensible about developing criteria around its use,” he said. That would include decision-making models for watch-lists, and an independent authorizing officer.

For the private sector, no guidance for live facial recognition exists, which Porter identifies as a troubling gap. While he can see many potential uses for the technology, clarity in both rules and justifications, as data protection impact assessments will require, are needed. Regulators must step up, Porter says.

Christian Morin of Genetec has observed a shift towards more globally distributed manufacturing capacity for surveillance cameras, and away from relying on manufacturers all based in China.

Ingram noted the “growth of buzzwords” in the surveillance technology industry, often in the absence of a corresponding growth of understanding, during a question-and-answer panel session along with Porter Morin and Maltby.

Optimism was expressed for help in the form of updated legacy regulation, and surveillance technology providers were urged to foster understanding among operators and help train them to know what to do with the impressive new capabilities they can offer them.

The balance between security and privacy, from an intelligence perspective, can never be quite right for an extended period of time, because of the changes among threats, technology, and society, Ingram argues.

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