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Minister says forces should be ‘massively scaling up’ use of facial recognition

90 per cent of population have facial images on government databases that can be used for comparisons

All police forces should be “massively scaling up” the use of passive and live facial recognition technology checking images not just against their custody databases but the PND and those of other government agencies such as the Passport Office and immigration and asylum systems, Policing Minister Chris Philp has said.

He also said that the data bill going through Parliament will make it clear that data sharing between different government departments for law enforcement purposes is not only lawful but ‘expected.’

Speaking at the Police Digital Summit in Brighton today he said: “Forces should be using facial recognition for every single image they can get their hands on. Doorbell cameras, dash cam footage CCTV. Always run that not just through your force custody database and the PND. But also the Passport system, the Asylum system. We are also going to be changing the law to open up various other government databases."

He said the facial images of 90 per cent of the population are covered by those databases so “we should be able to detect far more crimes." He added that although only two forces  -  the Met and South Wales -  were using Live Facial Recognition it was “very effective at picking up wanted people.”

New clauses in the data bill going through Parliament will “make clear” contrary to GDPR that data sharing  for crime prevention and crime detection it is a “completely legitimate use of data,” the Minister told the conference.

“This should be given very significant weight when the Information Commissioner’s Office make judgements,” he added. He said that should also cover the education system and local authorities, the welfare system and the NHS.

“I intend to buttress that with national agreements with other government departments,” he said.

Last week Met Commissiner Sir Mark Rowley revealed that the early results of ongoing work by his force using retroactive facial recogniton to look at CCTV images had the potential for progressing investigations that DNA  achieved 30 years ago. 

Mr Philps told delegates he had seen the Met's technology and it was able to get 'hits' from even the most blurry images.

The Minister also told delegates that the balance of spending on polijce IT needed to change. 

He said big legacy replacement systems such as the ESN project to replace Airwave and N-LEDS to replace the PNC and PND were “vastly expensive” to run taking up 95 per cent of the total policing IT budget. While clearly these systems are important this level of spending stifles innovation to develop new technologies for law enforcement he added.

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