Sharp rise in facial recognition use by Scottish police, UK protest footage scanned
The police in Scotland have tripled the use of retrospective facial recognition over the last five years jumping from just under 1,300 in 2018 to nearly 4,000 in 2022.
The rising trend has continued during 2023 with more than 2,000 searches carried out in the first four months of the year, according to data obtained by a freedom of information request by UK investigative journalism organizations Liberty Investigates and The Ferret.
The trend has been rising in other parts of the country. In 2014, the total number of searches using retrospective facial recognition by all police forces in the UK amounted to just 3,360. By 2022, that number jumped to 85,158, according to UK Home Office data.
The Scottish police ranks fourth in the use of the technology in the UK. The leader is the London Metropolitan Police which accounted for 30 percent or 27,677 searches last year.
The UK police have been using retrospective facial recognition to match faces captured with CCTV cameras with millions of images stored in the Police National Database. The practice has proved controversial as the database still contains many images of people who were released without charge.
Police in Scotland operate a distinct policy from other UK forces, only uploading custody images to the database once an individual has been charged with a crime and removing images of those found innocent after 6 months.
Facial recognition use by the police has been a target of criticism from some lawmakers, non-governmental organizations and policy experts.
Angela Daly, a member of the Scottish Government’s independent advisory group on new technologies in policing, told The Ferret that the rising use of retrospective facial recognition technology was a “concerning development.” Daly argued for its suspension until the police can prove its use is “appropriate, proportionate and effective” and supported by the public.
Police Scotland have even more face biometrics in their plans for the next five years, including real-time video processing.
London police use facial recognition at protests
Police in London have used retroactive facial recognition to identify criminal suspects at pro-Palestian marches last weekend which saw 30,000 protesters, according to police data.
The widespread protests resulted in 29 arrests with six people charged for public disorder and antisocial behavior, The Independent reports. The police have not released information on whether any of the arrests were conducted with the aid of facial recognition technology.
Facial recognition was deployed using the London Metropolitan Police database of wanted individuals alongside the Police National Database.
“We have included faster-time analysis capability of social media and we are going to be employing retrospective facial recognition, so I want to make it clear that we will be doing everything within our power this weekend to make sure there is that fast-time, really robust response to emerging incidents that cause really grave concern to communities,” Commander Karen Findlay said during a press briefing last Friday.
Pro-Palestinian protests have been held in London, and other cities globally, each Saturday since war began last month. Last weekend was particularly heated as multiple events, including a Just Stop Oil protest, were being held in the UK capital.
The Met Police said almost 1,900 additional officers were brought in to help manage the events with its terrorism command chief Dominic Murphy saying overseas conflict could act as a “radicalizing factor” for individuals that could launch an attack, the Press Association reports.