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UK government rejects calls for clearer facial recognition laws

UK government rejects calls for clearer facial recognition laws
 

Debates continue among British lawmakers on the legality of police deployment of live facial recognition.

After the UK Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee (JHAC) questioned the legal basis of UK police use of the technology and recommended the establishment of a new legislative framework, the government responded with the familiar argument – the use of live facial recognition is already covered by existing laws.

“There is a comprehensive legal framework governing police use of LFR,” the government wrote in its reply to JHAC’s letter published Monday.

JHAC’s letter, sent in January, highlighted other issues with police use of facial recognition such as the lack of standards and control mechanisms over the technology. Among its recommendations were assessments of lawfulness, proportionality and necessity as well as public opinions toward the technology. The letter followed a brief investigation conducted in December 2023 in which police and government representatives presented their arguments for continuing facial recognition use.

In its reply, the government cited regulations such as the police common law, the Data Protection Act 018, the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and more. The effectiveness of this patchwork of legislation, however, has been questioned not just by lawmakers but also civil society groups, legal experts, former UK biometrics and surveillance commissioner Fraser Sampson and Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Brian Plastow.

Despite the criticism, UK police have been doubling down on the use of facial recognition: This week, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to spend £55.5 million (US$69.5 million) to be spent on the technology over the next four years.

In 2022, the UK government similarly rejected the majority of the findings and recommendations provided by JHAC after a 10-month investigation into the police’s use of facial recognition.

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