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Authorised professional practice for live facial recognition published

Ethics advice on facial recognition is being shared with forces.

Authorised Professional Practice has been published in a bid to support forces planning on use live facial recongition.

It was developed with by the College of Policing with the Home Office and policing experts. A public consultation was also part of the process.

Live Facial Recognition (LFR) compares a live camera feed of faces against a predetermined watch list in real-time. An alert is issued when a possible match is found.

The Metropolitan Police and South Wales are among the forces that want to bring systems into use.

South Wales lost a High Court legal challenge in 2020 over its use that was brought by human rights group Liberty.

In a subsequent appeal, the Appeal Court found that it was legal for the police to use live facial recognition, but that further clarity was required in some areas. 

The new guidance includes considerations about the locations where police may deploy cameras and says forces should notify the public in advance except for very limited circumstances, such as a critical threat, when there may be insufficient time to do so. 

The guidance is only for overt use of the technology. Covert operations are managed by separate legislation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

Forces argue there are three situations when the technology could be used:

Other instances can include preventing people with banning orders from entering an area and catch those that police have intelligence on such as terrorists or stalkers.

The College’s broad guidance is that the technology should be used in a responsible, transparent, fair and ethical way and only when other, less intrusive methods would not achieve the same results.

David Tucker, Head of Crime at the College of Policing, said: “It will be used overtly and unless a critical threat is declared, the public should be notified in advance on force websites or social media about its use.

“We hope that those with concerns about this technology will be reassured by the careful safeguards we’ve set out as requirements for the police who wish to use it, based on a consistent and clear legal and ethical framework across all police forces.”

The Met has made clear it sees LFR as another tool for 21st Century policing alongside AI and machine reading. But the force does not see it as a replacement for human intelligence.

The Metropolitan Police said: “LFR is not a ubiquitous tool that uses lots of CCTV cameras from across London to track every person’s movements. It is a carefully deployed overt policing tactic to help locate a limited number of people the police need to find in order to keep London safe.

“We want to make sure that what we do conforms to the law and also takes into account ethical concerns and respects everyone’s human rights.”

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