Skip to the content

Commissioner says licensing of facial recognition needs consideration


Mark Say Managing Editor

Get UKAuthority News


Fraser Sampson
Fraser Sampson
Image source: GOB.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

The biometrics and surveillance commissioner has said there is a case for the licensing of some uses of live facial recognition (LFR) technology.

Fraser Sampson has made the point in his annual report, published last week, saying this might provide the right balance between the risks and benefits of using the technology.

This reflects a recognition that there is more clarity over its use in policing following the College of Policing’s publication last year of its Authorised Professional Practice on LFR, and that retrospective use could help provide an understanding of what happened in terrorist attacks or natural disasters.  

But efforts to find potential witnesses could be complicated by what constitutes a ‘witness’ in cyber space, and it would be a “sinister development” to identify people present at an event against a national database and ask them to disclose what they heard and saw.

Question on risks and benefits

Sampson says in the report: “I have questioned whether some of the risks and benefits of facial recognition technology might be balanced by having a scheme under which some uses of the technology are licensed.

“I have worked with the Biometrics Institute, a well established and well respected organisation that speaks with an objective, neutral voice, and took part in an event hosted by the institute to consider this specific question which I believe to be worthy of serious consideration.”

The report also places a focus on the increasing capabilities of biometric surveillance camera systems, saying they provide a great potential for improving police efficiency and effectiveness, but come with risks, particularly in the areas of LFT and AI.

In an accompanying letter to the home secretary, Sampson says: “There remains a clear gap between how facial recognition technology is being used and how it is perceived as being used. In this respect I echo the view of others in recognising the need for legislation and guidance to provide greater certainty and accountability in this area.”

Another feature of the report covers AI in policing, with an assertion of a need for a clearer definition of how police accountability for its use is measured, reviewed and improved.

Register For Alerts

Keep informed - Get the latest news about the use of technology, digital & data for the public good in your inbox from UKAuthority.