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Home Office considers facial recognition regulation



Worries over retention of images on Police National Database prompts new inquiry

Ministers are considering beefed up regulation of face recognition records, after protests that the police are uploading photographs on a national database illegally.

Earlier this year, a report from a committee of MPs criticised the practice - including the storing of photos of some people who were never charged - which a high court judgement ruled was unlawful.

More than 12 million custody photos had been entered into the Police National Database without proper testing or oversight, the Commons Science and Technology Committee found. Some forces, including the Met, had stopped entering images onto the database until the law is clarified, but others had continued in the absence of any national guidance.

In its report, the committee highlighted a “worrying lack of government oversight and regulation”, calling on Alastair MacGregor, the independent Biometrics Commissioner, to carry out the role. He currently oversees the retention and use of DNA and fingerprints, but not face recognition.

Changes possible

Now, in its response, the Home Office has hinted that changes will follow the completion of an ongoing inquiry into the retention of facial images.

It said: “The Home Office is currently undertaking a policy review of the statutory basis for the retention of facial images and consulting key stakeholders.

“As part of that review, we are considering the role of the Biometrics Commissioner. The government will of course publish the findings of the review and consult formally as appropriate.”

Minister of State for Policing, Mike Penning (pictured), added: “I recognise the need to develop a strategic approach to the use and retention of biometrics.

“This approach should recognise that biometrics is fast changing and provides opportunities for better secure identity verification, better public services, improved public protection and the ability to identify and stop criminals.

“This should be balanced against safeguarding the rights of the individual from unnecessary intrusion.”

Need for tests

In its report, the committee also queried why the system for matching faces had not been thoroughly tested before being deployed.

MacGregor told the committee it was being used by police “in the apparent absence of any very rigorous testing of the reliability of the facial matching technology that is being employed”.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence 3.0




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