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UK government rejects live CCTV face biometrics moratorium, claims progress in response to Committee

Biometrics and Forensic Ethics Group reappoints members

biometric identification facial recognition

A lot has changed in the use of biometrics across the UK over the past couple of years, but the government has pushed back against the suggestion that its policies, regulations and practices have been stagnant during that time.

The British government has published its response to the 2019 report from its Biometrics Commissioner and Forensic Science Regulator, agreeing with some points and arguing against others, and pointing out several areas where it believes progress has been made.

The 30-point response to ‘The work of the Biometrics Commissioner and the Forensic Science Regulator’, which covers the 2017 to 2019 period, and its key findings included that the forensic biometrics market had nearly collapsed during the report period (and not for the first time), that a national forensic science capability should be established, and that the regulator should be given statutory powers.

The government accepts the Committee’s findings and touts its efforts on the Forensics Capability Network (FCN), which opened in April 2020, and an investment of £28.6 million (US$39.2 million) in forensics capabilities in the 2020/21 fiscal year. The government also details its efforts to launch a forensics reform program, which covers regulations, improved understanding in court proceedings, improved police capabilities and standing up research and development capacity. A bill is currently before parliament to bestow statutory powers on the Commissioner.

On the topic of biometrics, the Committee also concluded that the government’s overdue biometrics strategy “arguably is not a ‘strategy’ at all.” The government should follow Scotland’s lead in establishing independent review, and should place a moratorium on the use of automated facial recognition, which was recently the subject of a damning report, until a legislative framework has been adopted and concerns around effectiveness and bias have been addressed.

The government says its legal framework for using biometrics, including facial recognition, is strong, and suggests that Scotland’s action and the Court of Appeals ruling on police facial recognition use mostly confirm its position.

The biometric technology’s use by South Wales Police on CCTV feeds has turned up around 100 identifications per month, with about half confirmed and leading to a law enforcement action. This delivers cost benefits in the amount of £230,000 ($315,000), as well as investigative benefits, according to the government’s response. The moratorium suggestion is rejected.

The use of live or real-time facial recognition is credited with preventing the potential theft of hundreds of mobile phones at a music festival in Wales, and with eight arrests from London police trials.

On the long-identified problem of image retention, the government says it is working on it.

Biometrics and Forensic Ethics Group brings back seven

The UK government’s Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group, meanwhile, has reappointed seven members for a second three-year term to continue providing advice on ethics in the use of biometrics, forensics, and big data.

Durham University Professor of Human Geography Louise Amoore, Professor Liz Campbell, Director of the Centre for Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, University of Warwick Professor in Political Theory Simon Caney, University of Leicester Genetics Professor Mark Jobling, University of Warwick Politics and Philosophy Professor Thomas Edward Sorrell, Kings College London Forensic Science Professor Denise Syndercombe-Court, and IBM Director of Research Dr. Peter Wagget have been reappointed.

There are around 16 members of the Group, including the chair.

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