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Info commissioner raises facial recognition concerns

15/05/18

Elizabeth Denham joins calls for closer look at how police use the technology and points to prospect of legal action

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has intensified the controversy over the use of facial recognition systems by the police, raising concerns about an intrusive use in public spaces and a lack of transparency.

Blurred male faceShe has expressed anxieties in a blogpost that acknowledges the potential public safety benefits in the technology, but says this could be prevented if there is not sufficient public trust.

Denham says there is a need to deal with unanswered questions around facial recognition, such as what is its accuracy and effectiveness, how its use can comply with the law, how do police forces guard against bias, what protections are in place for people of no interest to the police, and what are the safeguards against false positives?

“At another level, I have been deeply concerned about the absence of national level coordination in assessing the privacy risks and a comprehensive governance framework to oversee FRT (facial recognition technology) deployment,” she says.

Her office is now looking at the transparency and proportionality of the retention of over 19 million FRT images on the Police National Database, reflecting concerns already raised by the biometrics commissioner.

Notting Hill controversy

The issue has become increasingly controversial following reports of the technology’s use by the Metropolitan Police at last year’s Notting Hill Carnival. It was reported at the time that there were 35 incorrect matches and one incorrect arrest, and was followed by the mayor of London setting up a panel to look at the ethical issues.

Denham says that FRT by law enforcement is now a priority area for her office and that she recently wrote to the Home Office setting out her concerns.

“Should my concerns not be addressed I will consider what legal action is needed to ensure the right protections are in place for the public,” she says.

Image by EFF Photos, CC 2.0 through flickr

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