The UK’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) has released new best practices guidelines for police departments that want to use facial recognition technology in England and Wales. In a report titled “Facing the Camera,” Commissioner Tony Porter explained that facial recognition is distinct from other forms of biometric identification (such as fingerprints) because facial data can be collected without the knowledge or consent of the individual.
The Commissioner also noted that the Data Protection Act of 2018 classifies facial information as “sensitive” personal data. As a result, police departments need to take extra precautions and consider the ethical, legal, and human rights implications when using the technology.
With that in mind, the report goes on to unpack some of those legal considerations, placing a particular focus on questions of bias. According to the report, Section 149 of the Equality Act states that public organizations (including law enforcement) must work to eliminate discrimination in their operations. That can raise problems for organizations using facial recognition technology, which has been shown to be less accurate for people with darker skin.
Given the risks, police departments need to be more thorough when evaluating a potential facial recognition system to mitigate the risk of bias and discrimination. The report describes a methodology for the evaluation of facial recognition systems, and advocates for the creation of a national procurement strategy and ethical oversight boards for police deployments.
Despite the concerns, the Commissioner does argue that the police should be able to use facial recognition, provided that they do so in an ethical manner.
“Over the seven years I have been Commissioner, I have continually said that the police should be able to use technology to keep us safe and secure, but this must be balanced against our civil liberties and the law,” said Porter. “The guidance I’ve issued today will help forces who want to use [the technology] in accordance with the current legal framework.”
The report arrives a few months after the UK Court of Appeals overturned an earlier decision and ruled that the South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition was unlawful, partly because they did not take sufficient steps to prevent racial and gender bias. The UK Home Office has also come under fire for deploying a facial recognition system with known racial biases.
Source: Engineering and Technology
December 3, 2020 – by Eric Weiss