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UK’s £230 million plan to implement police facial recognition and drones

UK’s £230 million plan to implement police facial recognition and drones

As much as £230 million (approximately US$295 million) will be designated by the UK government to be spent on drones and facial recognition for police, “among other time and money saving technology.” The allocation was revealed by Jeremy Hunt, chancellor of the Exchequer, during his annual address on Wednesday, according to The Daily Mail.

Drones could be used as first responders as soon as the public reports a crime, and police could contact individuals through video calls. The idea behind the use of drones is that the police will have a better understanding of any incident than they would get by relying on descriptions from members of the public.

Police forces are already conducting trials that use drones as first responders to gather information about live incidents and to give officers insight as they arrive on the scene. If they prove to be effective, drones could be stationed at various locations.

In the Norfolk drone trial that took place in November, police would receive a 999 call. The drone would fly overhead and gain “situational awareness” of the events taking place and send the feed to a control room as well as to first responders traveling to the site in real time, explained National Police Chief Council Advisor Neil Sexton.

Police in England and Wales are currently using about 400 drones, but they can only be flown within the operator’s line of sight. Trials to operate beyond this vision are expected to take place in areas with closed-off airspace this year.

Part of the budget will also be allocated to the increased use of AI tools like facial recognition. More technological tools could also save time and improve officer response times.

“Police officers waste around eight hours a week on unnecessary admin. With higher productivity, we could free up time equivalent to 20,000 officers over a year,” said Hunt.

It’s not yet clear when drones would be deployed and when trials would be conducted in all forces across the UK.

“Pilot schemes of police technology like facial recognition, automating the triage of 101 calls and deploying drones as first responders,” will “enable police officers to spend more time on the frontline tackling crime,” the Treasury said. But not everyone agrees.

Big Brother Watch pans ‘shiny distraction’

“Wasting millions of pounds on intrusive and inefficient facial recognition will not fix the UK’s broken criminal justice system,” says Madeleine Stone, senior advocacy officer at Big Big Brother Watch in a published response to the plan.

“With police officers not responding to emergency calls and failing to undertake routine investigations, facial recognition is a shiny distraction that puts the public’s right to privacy and anonymity at huge risk,” she continues.

Stone notes that the EU’s AI Act restricts police use of biometrics in surveillance, but the UK’s government is instead “following in the footsteps of authoritarian states like China and Russia.”

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