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Policing Minister pushes for facial recognition in all UK police forces despite criticism

Office of biometrics commissioner warns of less oversight
Policing Minister pushes for facial recognition in all UK police forces despite criticism
 

The UK’s policing minister, Chris Philp, is pushing for facial recognition in all police forces nationally, despite critics claiming the technology is inaccurate and some of its applications are illegal.

According to a report to be submitted to parliament today, the Home Office briefed the biometrics and surveillance commissioner on Philp’s desire for law enforcement to expand their use of these systems, the Financial Times reports. That would mean rollouts to more forces and police body cameras.

The report was written by Pete Fussey and William Webster on behalf of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner. It argues that the proposed law would weaken surveillance oversight.

Critics are concerned about the impact this can have on privacy and human rights. The European Union cites the use of “real-time” biometric identification systems in public as an example of “intrusive and discriminatory uses of AI systems” in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act.

For the past five years, the South Wales Police and London’s Metropolitan Police have been using facial recognition software in multiple trials, during public events, and during the coronation of King Charles.

For a period of time, private owners of King’s Cross in London used the technology on the general public, scanning for individuals and sharing data with the police. They have since ceased the use of the technology.

Some privacy advocates and independent researchers argue that the technology is inaccurate and biased, particularly against people with darker skin.

In 2020, appeal court judges found the use of facial recognition software in trials by the South Wales Police to be unlawful. In response, the police continued to use the tool and said it would give the findings “serious attention,” and that its policies have changed since then. The trials resumed last year.

Last month, the police announced it conducted a review into the accuracy of the biometric technology and found “no statistically significant bias in relation to race and gender” and that the chance of a false match is 1 in 6000 people detected.

The UK’s Data Protection and Information Bill proposes to no longer require a surveillance camera code of practice and abolish the role of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, who is tasked with ensuring compliance with the code.

In an interview with Financial Times, Fussey said that the data protection legislation was a “diminishing of the scant regulations of oversight of this technology.”

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