Those facial recognition trials in the UK? They should be banned, warns Parliamentary committee

Latest call to halt creepy tech likely to fall on deaf ears

Updated The UK government should slap a "moratorium on the current use of facial recognition technology, with "no further trials" until there is legal framework in place, a Parliamentary committee has warned today.

In an excoriating report (PDF), the Science and Technology Committee expressed a series of concerns over the government's approach to biometrics and forensics.

Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:

"The legal basis for automatic facial recognition has been called into question, yet the government has not accepted that there’s a problem. It must. A legislative framework on the use of these technologies is urgently needed. Current trials should be stopped and no further trials should take place until the right legal framework is in place.”

There is growing evidence from respected, independent bodies that the lack of legislation surrounding the use of automatic facial recognition has called the legal basis of the trials into question, said the committee.

An independent report from Essex University earlier this month, found that only eight out of 42 facial recognition matches trialled by the Metropolitan Police were accurate.

Although following its publication, Home Secretary Sajid Javid continued to give his backing to its highly controversial use.

In contrast, yesterday Oakland, in California became the third US city to ban the use of facial recognition technology.

MPs also found progress has "seemingly stalled" on ensuring that the custody images of unconvicted individuals are deleted. "It is unclear whether police forces are unaware of the requirement to review custody images every six years, or if they are simply ‘struggling to comply,'" said the report.

There are now around 21 million shots of faces and identifying features like scars or tattoos in the custody image database. This includes images of people who haven't been charged with a crime.

It said: "Police forces should give a higher priority in the allocation of their resources to ensure a comprehensive manual deletion process of custody images in compliance with national guidance.

"In turn, the Government should strengthen the requirement for such a manual system to delete custody images and introduce clearer and stronger guidance on the process. In the long-term the Government should invest in automatic deletion software as previously promised."

On the subject of the government's 27-page biometrics strategy, the committee repeated its concerns that it "was not worth the five-year wait."

It said: "Arguably it is not a 'strategy' at all: it lacks a coherent, forward looking vision and fails to address the legislative vacuum that the Home Office has allowed to emerge around new biometrics."

Ultimately, the strategy represents "a missed opportunity" to create proper oversight of the technology.

"Simply establishing an oversight board, with no legal powers, is not good enough given the highly intrusive nature of the technologies. Further, the development and use of biometric technologies must be transparent and involve as much public awareness and engagement as possible, to ensure that there is public trust in the technologies. Unfortunately, public engagement has been sorely missing from the Home Office’s approach to date.

"Its ongoing 'consultation' on the governance of biometrics has no published terms of reference and there is no obvious way for interested parties to participate. This is not good enough."

The Register has asked the Home Office for a comment. ®

Update to add 16:01 BST 18/07/19

A Home Office spokesperson got in touch to say: "We support the police as they trial new technologies to protect the public, including facial recognition, which can help them identify criminals and suspects.

"The Government believes that there is a legal framework for the use of live facial recognition technology, although that is being challenged in the courts and we would not want to pre-empt the outcome of this case.

"However, we support an open debate about this, including how we can reduce the privacy impact on the public. In addition to existing oversight the Home Office is reviewing options to simplify and extend the current governance to ensure that as these new technologies are developed we maintain public trust and confidence."

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