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Face biometrics getting deeper into policing, sparking concerns

Face biometrics getting deeper into policing, sparking concerns

Those worried about the use of facial recognition by law enforcement have warned about how the technology could become entrenched in bureaucracies, growing in use and getting harder to question from outside governments.

A trio of recent reports, from Germany, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom seem to bear that out.

In Germany, a civil rights activist, Matthias Monroy, writing in his own blog, says a facial recognition system used to identify unknown people has grown “dramatically” from 2021 to 2022.

The database reportedly belongs to Germany’s federal police. According to Monroy, it was searched about 7,700 in 2022, compared to 6,100 times in 2021.

About 2,800 people were identified using the police’s algorithm last year, compared to 1,300 in 2021.

The advocate says that the Federal Ministry offered the information after being asked by a party in parliament. He also said that, according to the ministry, the same data has not been received from German states.

The images are gathered from CCTV cameras and from phones used by police to record the faces of suspects of crimes. Asylum seekers are in the same database.

Reportedly, the number of facial images in the police database grew by about 1.5 million last year compared to the previous year primarily because only 400,000 images were deleted.

If German police are starting to hold on to photos longer, they might be in good company.

Trade publication ComputerWeekly is reporting that some in the UK feel the government is adopting a biometrics “culture of retention.”

The publication quotes Fraser Sampson, the nation’s biometrics commissioner, telling Parliament that “non-deletion” is becoming a way of thinking for law enforcement.

Along with establishing clear rules about what constitutes grounds for deploying face scanning software, biometrics watchdogs have steadfastly demanded that data collected not be held forever, in literal or practical terms.

Dutch police, according to news publisher RTL Nieuws, are, indeed, gathering passport photos of non-Dutch people passing through the country even if they are not linked to a crime. The data gets fed into a criminal-tracing program called Catch.

The government’s justice ministry defends the practice of holding 6.5 million of images of people by saying to do so is legal. They people caught in the database are asylum seekers, foreign students and ex-patriots, according to the publication.

Critics of the practice say it effectively makes the people criminal suspects, and could lead to discrimination.

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