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UK advocate for biometric surveillance says new code of practice pulls punches

UK advocate for biometric surveillance says new code of practice pulls punches

“Remarkably lightweight” is how a former United Kingdom surveillance commissioner describes proposed changes to national police policy covering facial recognition systems.

Tony Porter, who had been the Home Office’s surveillance camera commissioner, writing in Policing Insight, said stronger guidance and clearer governance is needed in a draft code about how law enforcement uses cameras and the data they harvest.

Porter today is chief privacy officer of facial recognition systems vendor Corsight AI. He said regulation of the systems should come from the government’s Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

Porter said he sees evidence that the best facial recognition algorithms are “rapidly diminishing” age, race and ethnicity biases observable eight years ago when the code was written. He said these top systems surpass a human’s ability to identify people, even if they are wearing a mask.

Yet, his post pins the new surveillance draft against the wall when, for example, it lists things “police chiefs” must ensure.

They need to explain why a given category of people are to be put on watch lists, first. They also must identify the criteria that goes into determining when and where they want to deploy live face biometrics surveillance. Also, law enforcement has to have an authorization process and criteria for those deployments.

Particularly in light of a recent court ruling (Bridges v. South Wales Police) that was critical of police use of facial recognition surveillance systems, Porter pronounced the list lightweight.

“Strong governance, streamlined oversight and an independently overseen code is the absolute minimum” needed to win and keep public trust, he writes. Meaningful safeguards can create an environment in which police can be trusted to use face biometrics to protect citizens fairly, uniformly and effectively.

Porter has been joined by researchers at the Ada Lovelace Institute in saying the draft needs more muscular regulation.

The current Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Fraser Sampson, has launched a consultation process and is inviting comment “from a wide range of stakeholders.” The consultation period closes September 8, and Sampson intends to table the draft code in parliament in late autumn.

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