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British govt wants new face biometrics software; industry says ‘not so fast’

British govt wants new face biometrics software; industry says ‘not so fast’

The UK government is asking for information about new facial recognition technology even as a major manufacturers’ association demands clarity on who has oversight over the nation’s security industry.

Both events occurred August 30 and illustrate the unease each actor feels about getting more biometric surveillance on public settings. Government doesn’t want to answer for more terrorism and crime and the industry doesn’t want to be brought to court because it answered government’s call.

An agency with the Defense Ministry, the Defense and Security Accelerator, had asked to hear about new effective and ethical facial recognition technologies. Conceivably, that could include hardware, but software that is better at spotting danger and dangerous people and identifying concerning video images is the primary tactic.

Accelerator officials are keen to upgrade the nation’s ability to perform live and historical facial recognition tasks including giving an operator the ability to manually use algorithmic tools on video feeds and image databases to identify a suspect. They want to be able to deploy the new tools in 12 to 18 months.

Paul Taylor, the UK’s national policing chief scientific adviser, issued a statement saying Crime, Policing and Fire Ministry leaders “firmly believe that embracing this advanced technology (in law enforcement) can significantly enhance public safety while respecting individual rights and privacy.”

Taylor said the private sector is “pivotal” to pulling that off.

While almost certainly true, UK manufacturers sense an unintentional trap.

The British Security Industry Association released its own request for information.

“The BSIA is calling on the UK government for clarity on how it intends to fill the void left after the recent resignation of its Biometric & Surveillance Camera Commissioner (B&SCC) and the abolition of its office,” according to a note posted on the group’s site.

“We are both disappointed and concerned” about legislation that would close the commission entirely, says Dave Wilkinson, technical services director for the security association, in a statement.

Wilkinson described a mutual and productive relationship between the government and association that began when the surveillance camera commission formed in 2014.

Without more information, he said, it appears that pending legislation will orphan ongoing and significant work at the commission.

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