An audit into Police Scotland has raised the alarm over the country's lack of independent oversight on police access to the facial recognition capabilities of the UK Police National Database.
The 51-page audit (PDF), which was published yesterday, also noted that although the existing statutory guidance on the facial images database only applied to forces in England and Wales, if it did apply Scottish plod then their current unregulated activities would be more compliant than that of their southern colleagues.
The audit found that Police Scotland was fully compliant with its own policy regarding use of the PND, as well as with the Home Office and College of Policing guidance, however it is also "identified a need for improved legislation and better independent oversight around the police use of biometrics in Scotland."
The UK Police National Database (PND) contains over 18 million mugshot pictures of persons detained by UK police, although not every force uploads to the db. According to FOIA work by campaigner Pippa King, the PND's facial recognition capability is provided by CGI/Cognitech.
While ostensibly allowing police to automate the business of matching mugshots, the report's writer, Brian Plastow, told The Register that the PND system was "not that great" as it returns only a number of possible image matches which require human assessment, comparison and investigation.
As such the report used the term "face search" rather than "facial recognition", said Plastow, a former police officer who works for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland (HMICS), which is led by Derek Penman.
An article on Penman in the Holyrood mag opens with the excellent claim that: "Derek Penman has always shown a penchant for having an independent streak. At age 17, he turned down a place at university to read law and instead joined the police as a cadet. His father, also a police officer at legacy Central Scotland, knew nothing of it."
The audit and assessment began following a motion lodged in the Scottish Parliament last year by Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes, which itself ultimately followed the Newsnight-publicised issue of innocent folk's mugs were being stored on the PND, last year. The Register had reported on the issue several months before Newsnight's "scoop", of course.
Subsequent alarm was raised by Parliament's Science and Technology committee, which slammed the government over its continued inability to ensure over sight of the collection of millions of Brits' mugshots. The Biometrics Commissioner's remit currently does not include photo recognition technology, although it does cover the collection of DNA and fingerprints.
A government response from Lord Bates last year acknowledged the urgency of this issue, yet there's no change in the pipeline yet for England and Wales. Legislative change was recommended in Scotland, however, which has just the one police force. This makes it more suited to the introduction of such legislation, according to Plastow. ®