The UK’s Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner has spoken out strongly against a new College of Policing guidance for the use of facial recognition. The Authorised Professional Practice document suggests that police should be using facial recognition to put both suspects and witnesses on watchlists when investigating potential crimes.
It is the second part of the guidance that has drawn the ire of Commissioner Fraser Sampson. Sampson believes that using facial recognition to identify witnesses would infringe on people’s civil liberties, since the police could classify virtually anyone as a witness to give themselves broad authority to stop and question anyone with very little pretence.
The guidance “treats everyone like walk-on extras on a police film set rather than as individual citizens free to travel, meet and talk,” said Sampson. “Is the status of the UK citizen shifting from our jealously guarded presumption of innocence to that of ‘suspected until we have proved our identity to the satisfaction of the examining officer’?”
Sampson’s stance is a little surprising insofar as he is a former West Yorkshire Police and British Transport Police officer who has previously argued that the police need to have access to facial recognition to conduct effective investigations in the current environment. However, he seems to believe that the technology should be reserved for suspects rather than innocent bystanders, and suggested that Parliament should step in if the new police guidance goes unchallenged. The House of Lords is expected to address the issue sometime later this week.
It’s also worth noting that Sampson has raised concerns about the use of facial recognition outside of targeted investigations. For example, Sampson has spoken out against the use of facial recognition in British schools, and advised administrators to use less invasive forms of identity verification.
In the meantime, British civil rights advocates shared Fraser’s reservations about the new police guidance. Law enforcement agencies throughout the UK have aggressively fought to expand their facial recognition powers, with South Wales police recently introducing a new system to replace one that was deemed to be unlawful in the British Court of Appeals.
Source: Sky News
April 4, 2022 – by Eric Weiss