Members of the Scottish Parliament have come out strongly against the use of facial recognition by Police Scotland under the existing legal framework.
The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing has published a report saying the police service needs to demonstrate the legal basis it would rely on for its use, compliance with human rights and data protection legislation, and that it has eliminated biases against ethnic minorities and women.
It also calls on the Scottish Police Authority and a future Scottish biometrics commissioner to review police use of the technology, especially in considering the impact of accessing images held on the UK Police National Database or on IT systems inherited from legacy Scottish police forces. It says these two systems include images of people not convicted of any crime.
This comes after Police Scotland has indicated that it is not currently planning to introduce live facial recognition, although it pointed to the future use of the technology in its Policing 2026 strategy.
Robust and transparent
The report also says that there should be a “robust and transparent assessment” of the necessity and accuracy of facial recognition and its potential impact on people and communities. It welcomes Police Scotland’s intention to introduce the use of ethics panels to consult with relevant stakeholders to identify and mitigate risks.
John Finnie MSP (pictured), convener of the sub-committee, said: “The sub-committee is reassured that Police Scotland have no plans to introduce live facial recognition technology at this time. It is clear that this technology is in no fit state to be rolled out or indeed to assist the police with their work.
“Current live facial recognition technology throws up far too many ‘false positives’ and contains inherent biases that are known to be discriminatory.
“Our inquiry has also shone light on other issues with facial recognition technology that we now want the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Government to consider. Not least amongst these are the legal challenges against similar technologies in England and Wales, and the apparent lack of law explicitly governing its use in Scotland – by any organisation.
“So whether this technology is being used by private companies, public authorities or the police, the Scottish Government needs to ensure there is a clear legal framework to protect the public and police alike from operating in a facial recognition Wild West.”
Although applying solely to Scotland, the report is likely to add fuel to the controversy around the use of facial recognition in other parts of the UK.
The Home Office has declared its support for trials and the Metropolitan Police has said it intends to use the technology, but South Wales Police has had to defend a legal challenge (successfully) to its use and the Information Commissioner’s Office has called for a statutory code of conduct.