‘One Nation Under CCTV’: The U.K. Tackles Facial Recognition Technology
Technology companies are working with U.S. police departments to develop facial recognition technology for body cameras-but the United States isn’t alone in its exploration and development of facial recognition technology. The Home Office-a ministerial department with responsibilities ranging from securing the U.K. border and controlling immigration to handling terrorist threats and crime prevention-holds the general responsibility for regulation of FRS, with two independent commissioners overlapping in the as-of-yet poorly defined area of Facial Recognition Technology regulation: the Office of the Biometrics Commissioner and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner. The Surveillance Camera Code of Practice requires any police use of facial recognition or other biometric characteristic recognition systems to be clearly justified and proportionate in meeting the stated purpose.
The retention of facial images by the police is governed by data protection legislation and by Authorised Professional Practice produced by the College of Policing. There appear to be two stages at which the U.K. government believes that facial recognition technology can, and perhaps should, be regulated: first, when parties are deciding whether to use FRS, and second, when any information about individuals will be retained in databases as input for the technology. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 allows the police to take facial photographs of anyone detained. The Authorized Professional Practice on the Management of Police Information Code of Practice governs the use and retention of images by police in more detail.
On Feb. 7, 2018, the Greater London Authority Oversight Committee asked Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to dissallow the use of FRS by the Metropolitan Police Service -the police force responsible for the greater London area-pending the development of a legal framework for its use. In 2015, the use of FRS at the Download music festival in Leicestershire became a topic of controversy, both because the police didn’t inform the public of its use and because many of the concert attendees were under 18 years old. The South Wales police also used automatic facial recognition technology at the 2017 Champions League final. Believe[s] that the use of automated facial recognition technology represents a turning point in our civil liberties and human rights in the U.K. It has barely been acknowledged anywhere that this could be a problemThe current system-or, more correctly, the lack of a current system-means that there is no law, no oversight and no policy regulating police use of automated facial recognition.
Despite the legal and policy uncertainty, the U.K. government appears to be forging ahead with FRS, soliciting bidders for a £4.6 million contract to provide U.K. law enforcement and government authorities with FRS. The South Wales police have already received a £2 million grant for automated facial recognition software.
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