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UK academic argues for local policy updates on live facial recognition over legislation

Deployments and regulatory change continue apace
UK academic argues for local policy updates on live facial recognition over legislation

New legislation may not be needed to underpin live facial recognition in the UK, according to an analysis by a Brunel University London professor. Meanwhile, trials and production deployments continue, even as the Biometrics Commissioner’s Office begins preparing to shut down.

A paper in Cambridge Law Journal by Brunel AI, Disruptive Innovation and Law Senior Lecturer Dr. Asress Gikay argues that privacy, data protection and civil liability laws already on the books already address most of the risks associated with live facial recognition.

Gikay also argues that police have the power under common law to gather and retain evidence without a specific warrant, including through surveillance. Criminal investigations and preserving public safety are considered legitimate reasons to interfere with the right to privacy, he says: “The law clearly recognises that the police can take away our privacy rights as long as it is not disproportionate.”

The paper raises the safety and security benefits of real-time facial recognition in public spaces. There are of course limits, however: “Deployment space must be justified based on the reasonable likelihood of the people on the watchlist being in that area,” Gikay says.

Transparency requirements are governed by the European Human Rights Convention, which means that police do not have to reveal information that would make their measures less effective, according to Gikay.

“It is sufficient to inform people on the spot that a surveillance operation is taking place and for the authority conducting the surveillance to enable people to exercise their right to hold authorities accountable if needed, but people do not need to be given advance warning of surveillance via social media or by any other means,” he says.

The UK still needs “a clear national policy” that guarantees the technology will not be used to investigate minor crimes, but this change could be made through local police force policies, as opposed to formulating a bill and shepherding it through parliament. The Court of Appeals has already ruled such local policies sufficient.

“If supplemented by appropriate guidance and policies, our existing legal frameworks can be interpreted to address the challenges posed by LFR technology in law enforcement,” Gikay argues.

Early deployments

A deployment of live facial recognition at the East and West Croydon railway stations in London Thursday week netted 10 arrests, including a man found in possession of a crossbow, South London Press reports. People wanted for assault and bank fraud were also arrested. Most of the rest were wanted for a failure to appear in court to answer to charges ranging from theft to illegal weapons possession.

Met police also said 12 people subject to for sex offenses were also questioned to ensure their compliance to release conditions.

There were no false alerts, according to police.

Live facial recognition has also been deployed to body cameras for a trial by bouncers at London nightclubs. That three-month trial has concluded successfully, Go! Southampton marketing manager Flo Bevis wrote on social media.

The Daily Echo reports that the cameras, supplied by Reveal Media, were connected to a database of 65 people in the Southampton area, who the publication describes as “well-known offenders.”

Reveal says it is the only supplier offering body cameras that can run live facial recognition.

New commissioner sets priorities

The UK’s newly-appointed Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Eastaugh has laid out his priorities, which are topped by making sure National Security Determinations and other biometrics casework is “in good order to transfer to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office.”

Eastaugh will also review S63G applications, which are police requests to retain the biometric data of an individual who has not been charged.

“Additionally, I will be working with stakeholders to explore how some of my current responsibilities (that are not specifically mandated for transfer in the Bill) will be given continuity and upheld,” Eastaugh writes.

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