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Lords warn over live facial recognition in policing


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Baroness Hamwee
Baroness Hamwee
Image source: CC BY 3.0

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the House of Lords has called for the development of a clear legal foundation for the use of live facial recognition (LFR) in policing.

It has said this should involve a legislative framework for the regulation – which should be future proofed in anticipation of advances in the tech – and deployment of the technology, along with a structure for independent scrutiny.

The committee has issued the call in a letter to the home secretary following its short investigation in the use of LFR by police forces. This raised concerns that, while it is a valuable tool, its use is being expanded without proper scrutiny and availability.

Its letter says there is a lack of any rigorous standards or systems of regulation and no consistency among police forces in training officers how to use LFR. In response, it said there is a need for consistency in training and the use of LFR.

In addition, the committee said that police should make it very apparent to the public when and where the technology is being deployed, with a nationally standardised procedure for pre-deployment communication.

Question of legality

Chair of the committee Baroness Hamwee said: “Does the use of LFR have a basis in law? Is it actually legal?”

“It is essential that the public trusts LFR and how it is used. It is fundamental that the legal basis is clear. Current regulation is not sufficient. Oversight is inadequate.”

“Technology is developing so fast that regulation must be future proofed. Police forces may soon be able to link LFR cameras to trawl large populations, such as Greater London, and not just specific localities.”

“We are an outlier as a democratic state in the speed at which we are applying this technology. We question why there is such disparity between the approach in England and Wales and other democratic states in the regulation of LFR.”

The Lords’ recommendations would apply to England and Wales, with Scottish police being subject to a different governance structure.

High profile

The investigation has followed the committee’s earlier work on new technologies in the justice system, which led to a report published in March 2022 and pointed out that facial recognition is the best know of the AI technologies being increasingly deployed by police.

The Home Office has been enthusiastic about the use of the technology in the sector, having highlighted its potential in a briefing note published last year, and the Metropolitan Police has claimed some significant success from its use.

But it has also raised concerns, with the Information Commissioner’s Office having called for a statutory code for police forces.


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