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Ethics group sets guidelines for police sharing facial recognition data

01/02/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Police forces should follow a series of ethics guidelines when sharing biometric data from live facial recognition (LFR) technology with private organisations, according to an expert group supported by the Home Office.

Surveillance camera and digital face

The Biometric and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) has made the recommendations in a briefing note on ethical issues arising from public-private collaboration in the use of LFR.

It follows an evidence gathering process that led to the conclusion that the use of LFR in collaborations is likely to increase, as police provide digital watchlists of missing persons and crime suspects to private organisations that use the technology to monitor their estates. Similarly, companies may create their own watchlists and pass on data when there is a need for police intervention.

But this raises concerns around issues such as the sharing of data and technology, possible discrimination and bias, the construction of watchlists, and the effect of using LFR in private spaces used by the public.

In response, the BFEG says there are ethical needs to demonstrate a collaboration is necessary and that the data sharing is proportionate, and clearly define the types of data to be shared.

Recommendations for trust

This leads to recommendations including that police should only share data with trustworthy organisations, minimise the number of people who have access and ensure it securely stored.

In addition, watchlists should be narrow and targeted, there should be a publicly accessible record of collaborative uses of LFR and they should be organised by a senior police officer.

The paper also calls for the creation of an independent ethics group to oversee the use of the technology in public-private collaborations.

The publication comes a few weeks after the surveillance camera commissioner produced a report calling for tighter governance of the use of LFR by English and Welsh police forces. There have been protests over its implications for privacy and legal challenges to its use by South Wales Police, although in 2019 the Home Office declared its support for trials of the technology.

Image from iStock, Scharfsinn86

 

 

 

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