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Live facial recognition ‘not fit for police use’ say Scottish MPs

Committee also wants review of ‘retrospective’ facial recognition when Police Scotland uploads custody images to Police National Database (PND) used by all UK forces

There is ‘no justifiable basis’ for Police Scotland to invest in live facial recognition technology as it is ‘not fit for use’ according to a committee of MSPs.

A report by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-committee on Policing said the technology, which is currently used by two forces in England and Wales, is “known to have in-built racial and gender bias, and unacceptably high levels of inaccuracy.”

Police Scotland had an ambition, outlined in its 10-year strategy, to introduce LFR by 2026 but it has now shelved those plans, the committee report says.

“The Sub-Committee believes that there would be no justifiable basis for Police Scotland to invest in this technology,” it said.

“We therefore welcome confirmation from Police Scotland that they have no intention to introduce it at this time.”

It added that the use of LFR would be a ‘radical departure’ from Police Scotland’s principle of policing by consent.

South of the border the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police are using LFR openly to search for people wanted against specific watch lists.

South Wales Police use the technology at football matches to spot people who are subject to football banning orders.

The Met is commencing operations with LFR this month to target wanted violent offenders in specific locations. It will also be used to search for missing people, particularly children.

MSPs have also called for a review of how Police Scotland use ‘retrospective’ facial recognition technology, such as custody images that are held in police databases. It says procedures and practices would benefit from a review by the Scottish Police Authority and any incoming Scottish Biometrics Commissioner.

Like other UK forces Police Scotland upload criminal record images and intelligence to the UK Police National Database (PND), which has a facial matching functionality.

The PND enables all UK police forces to upload an individual image of a suspect, and to use its facial search software to compare that image against others held on file.

Police Scotland uploaded all of the records and images from their Criminal History System to the PND in 2011.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland found that the introduction of the facial matching functionality provided the ability to search third-party sourced images of suspects (known as probe images) against that database. This included images sourced from CCTV, mobile phones, or police body-worn video cameras.

In their written evidence to the sub-committee, HMICS describe the PND as “controversial”, as forces in England and Wales have not removed all the records of those not subsequently proceeded against or convicted.

Police Scotland only upload images to the PND of those who had been charged with a crime or offence.

The sub-committee also raised concerns about Police Scotland’s access to a CCTV system operated by Glasgow City Council which has a person search capability built into it through a software upgrade. It is understood that this capability has not yet been used by the force.

The software is not based on facial recognition, but on characteristics, such as full body image, and that it includes a “quasi-real time” tracking functionality.

The system can select a reference image/person by retrieving a person's image from the CCTV system (if seen on camera). It then can upload a photo of the person (such as a missing person)  which then becomes the reference image and then creates an image with the built-in composite tool (known as an avatar).

Glasgow City Council confirmed to the sub-committee that Police Scotland will be able to access the Suspect Search technology.

It can use the software for pre-planned or planned operations. Pre-planned use would require to be authorised through the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (“RIPSA”) and authorised by Glasgow City Council’s Investigations Manager, in accordance with their policy and guidelines on directed surveillance.

Unplanned use, for example to locate someone being sought in connection with a real-time incident, would not require prior authorisation.

Glasgow City Council are awaiting the approval of a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), both internally and by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, prior to commencing operational use of the system.

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