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UK experts condemn government facial recognition use, invoke threatened oversight role

UK experts condemn government facial recognition use, invoke threatened oversight role

A group of technology experts gave evidence to the House of Lords suggesting the use of live facial recognition technology by UK police is disproportionate, lacks a clear legal basis and has highly questionable efficacy, Computer Weekly reports. Their criticism included reference to the Biometrics Commissioner’s Office and trials the Surveillance Camera and Biometrics Commissioner oversees, just as the government is considering collapsing the dual role into the Information Commissioner’s Office.

During the session Karen Yeung, interdisciplinary professorial fellow in Law, Ethics and Informatics at Birmingham Law School, questioned the Met police force’s scientific methodology, calling it “very unrigorous.”

Yeung sustained that recent facial recognition trials have not generated a stable and rigorous set of data on the basis of these experiments, despite procedures being improved multiple times.

In fact, according to Silkie Carlo, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, in five years of trials, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) only achieved 11 positive matches using live facial recognition (LFR) technology.

Specifically, the face biometrics systems were trialed between 2016 at the Notting Hill Carnival and February 2019, with two trials in Romford. The system was then deployed for full operational use in January 2020.

“In those 11 trials, 500,000 faces were scanned to produce nine to 10 arrests, and many of those were individuals who were wanted for very trivial offenses,” Yeung said.

“All of this means the real-time location tracking of many, many hundreds of thousands of British people going about their lawful business, not bothering anyone,” she added.

In addition, the Birmingham Law School Professor also highlighted how, unlike Germany and France who conducted LFR tests on volunteers, the UK directly conducted operation trials on real-life suspects, thus limiting the demographic comprehensiveness of the database.

As the Surveillance Camera Commissioner while a court case on a similar set of trials conducted by South Wales Police was heard, Tony Porter was called upon to issue a legal opinion on the live facial recognition deployment. Who, if anyone, would deliver such an opinion if the role is subsumed into the ICO is unclear.

During the parliamentary session, Carlo also questioned the legal basis behind the deployment of facial recognition systems by law enforcement in the UK.

The privacy experts echoed a call by the UK’s former Biometric Commissioner for a clear legal framework last July detailing the use of LFR technologies.

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