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Public facial recognition so far penned in by trust issues in the UK and Ireland

Public facial recognition so far penned in by trust issues in the UK and Ireland

Questions about facial recognition in public spaces are getting more pointed and harder to dismiss by governments.

Downstream from a United Nations report released last week about AI and human rights, face biometrics is being scrutinized. Separately, United Kingdom’s surveillance commissioner and civil liberty advocates in Ireland want to stop deployments until their questions are answered.

The report, from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, pushes for a moratorium on use of remote biometrics in public spaces until ethics safeguards are required.

Its authors pointed to the lack of development and operational transparency that has triggered opposition. Examples of governments striving for facial recognition transparency while balancing privacy laws exist but are few.

UK surveillance commissioner Fraser Sampson acknowledges the scale of the work required to build ethics into the sprawling AI industry. Speaking to The Register, Sampson offered a surprising but still intimidating idea.

The opportunity for abuse and the level of potential harm is analogous to human embryology and fertilization, endeavors that are heavily regulated based on ethics almost universally, he said.

Specifically, principles for facial recognition systems must be created, audited and enforced with laws that require technological and operational transparency, Sampson said. A piecemeal approach will not deliver a situation that engenders trust in citizens.

Closer to the ground, a proposal to increase the scope of video surveillance carried out by the Republic of Ireland’s national police service has run into opposition.

A bill, which does not explicitly deal with face biometrics, is pending in the national legislature that would give the Garda Síochána more freedom to access live CCTV feeds, including those from third parties.

The Irish Data Protection Commission has said the bill would not legalize video systems, including body cameras, with facial recognition functions.

Trust was not obvious among skeptics.

One lawmaker pointed to a 2016 modernization plan calling for the Garda to develop facial recognition systems capable of picking someone out of a crowd.

Transparency will be critical in any future police surveillance proposal to make sure commitments and accountability are obvious and mission-creep is blocked.

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