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Home Office backs facial recognition trials


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Home Secretary Sajid Javid has come out in support of police forces trialing facial recognition technology – despite protests against its possible dangers

His department has said, however, that before any deployment forces should put forward a proposal for consideration by the Biometrics Oversight and Advisory Board.

Javid was reported by the BBC as specifically backing the Metropolitan Police in its tests of facial recognition, and the Home Office issued a statement making clear it believes the trials of the technology are valid.

“We support the police as they trial new technologies to protect the public, including facial recognition, which can help them identity criminals,” said a spokesperson.

“The Government believes that there is a legal framework for the use of live facial recognition technology, although that is being challenged in the courts and we would not want to pre-empt the outcome of this case.

“However, we support an open debate about the balance between public protection and privacy, and the Home Office is reviewing options to simplify and extend the current governance and oversight arrangements for biometrics.”

Human checks

In response to some of the criticisms, it highlighted that possible matches produced by the systems are always checked by a human operator before deciding if any action should be taken, and that they are being monitored by the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

The Home Office statement came days after Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham joined the warnings over the possible dangers of facial recognition. She said the potential for bias and intrusions into people’s privacy are causes for concern, and that police forces should provide demonstrable evidence that it is necessary to use the technology.

Her warning came after a new round of a new round of criticisms of the police trials. Last month the University of Essex Human Rights Centre published a report claiming there have been significant flaws in how LFR had been tested by the Metropolitan Police and called for all trials to be halted.

Also, Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles said the Government should consider new legislation to regulate the use of LFR.

Campaign group Liberty has mounted a legal challenge against the use of the technology by South Wales Police. The case is still pending.

The Government set up the advisory board as a step towards maintaining public trust.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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