ICO: facial recognition use holds potential for “widespread invasiveness”


The Information Commissioners Office has suggested a new code of practice, following an investigation raising “serious concerns” into the potential use of facial recognition by UK police forces.

In particular, the organisation picked up on the technology’s potential for “widespread invasiveness,” relying as it does on “huge amounts of sensitive personal information.” The ICO focussed in particular on trials of the solution recently carried out by the Metropolitan Police Service and South Wales Police.

Speaking of the findings, a spokesperson for the organisation said: “Live facial recognition [LFR] is a step change in policing techniques. We found that the current combination of laws, codes and practices relating to [it] will not drive the ethical and legal approach that’s needed to truly manage the risk that this technology presents.

“The key recommendation arising from the ICO’s investigation is to call for government to introduce a statutory and binding code of practice on the deployment of LFR. This is necessary in order to give the police and the public enough knowledge as to when and how the police can use LFR systems in public spaces.”

Other recommendations include the need for an increased effort to eliminate bias in algorithms, with a particular emphasis on those relating to ethnicity. This, said the ICO, would help maintain public confidence and cross-community support.

Responding to the report, South Wales Police deputy chief constable Richard Lewis said: “South Wales Police has received and will carefully consider both the report and the opinion issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

“South Wales Police will provide a comprehensive response to the ICO’s conclusions and key findings once we have had time to appraise [them] fully. [Our] use of the live facial recognition technology continues to be lawful and proportionate and we will transparently engage with any stakeholders to ensure a proper understanding of the technology and its use for law enforcement purposes.”

Such is the gravity of the situation – according to the ICO – that it has issued its first Commissioner’s Opinion, looking specifically at issues around data protection during LFR deployment.

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Philip Mason
Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 9216

Author: Philip Mason