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Facial recognition still far from a black-and-white issue in UK

Facial recognition still far from a black-and-white issue in UK

An advocacy group protesting police use of facial recognition in the UK alleges that Parliament is providing poor oversight of the situation. Other nonprofits are pointing to algorithm activity that might undercut biometrics reform goals.

The net result likely will be less clarity on UK policies.

Officials with Privacy International say they hired internet research firm YouGov to learn what 114 members of Parliament know about police use of face biometrics. There are 650 MPs.

According to PI, 70 percent of MPs didn’t know if their constituency was subjected to facial recognition systems. Eighteen percent said it wasn’t being used in their district; 12 percent said yes, they knew it was happening.

According to another advocacy group, Liberty, the government has said that all 45 territorial UK law enforcement agencies used face biometrics retrospectively last year.

One-third of survey respondents said they do not know if the UK has a law regulating facial recognition and a quarter think such a law exists. Forty-two percent said no law exists, which PI said is correct.

Byline Times, a nonprofit UK news publisher, says, based on Freedom of Information requests its editors filed, 247,000 faces have been scanned in London so far this year. A dozen arrests resulted, according to Byline Times’ research.

Many of those faces were pointed to the royalty during King Charles’ coronation and birthday parties.

While a quarter of a million scans is no small sum, the number of people in London on a workday is about 10 million. And patriotism in the form of wanting to protect the royals sways public sentiment toward law and order, at least for a day.

Past polls have pointed to skepticism on the topic. There is not unconditional support for law enforcement to use biometrics, for instance.

Some advocacy groups, including Liberty, have put a spotlight the use of facial recognition systems earlier this year during the Beyoncé show in Cardiff, South Wales.

But the police said surveillance was needed to spot pedophiles among the younger audience members and to watch for terrorists, the BBC reports. The Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 is still recent in many voters’ minds.

The sincerity of those rationales can be debated, but they will win over a majority of citizens, weakening the argument that police with facial recognition have too much power.

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