Facial recognition storage left entirely in policing’s hands generates issue of public confidence, MPs warn

MPs are ready to instigate a parliamentary inquiry into the storage by police forces of 20 million images in a practice that raises “fundamental civil liberty issues”.

Jan 23, 2018

MPs are ready to instigate a parliamentary inquiry into the storage by police forces of 20 million images in a practice that raises “fundamental civil liberty issues”. A Commons committee is poised to launch the investigation within a “clear and legal framework” after claiming it has “run out of patience” with the Government, which has failed to act almost six years after it was ruled unlawful by the?High Court. The court warned of the “risk of stigmatisation of those entitled to the presumption of innocence”, adding that it would be particularly harmful in the cases of children. Independent experts warn of the danger of losing public confidence, when the governance and decision-making of the process is left “entirely in the hands of the police”. But the Home Office is still urging forces in England and Wales to carry on retaining the facial recognition imagery, promising new laws will follow. Meanwhile, a “biometrics strategy” has been delayed for five years, prompting a warning that the number of retained images would rocket, breaching “individual privacy”. Now?Norman Lamb, chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, has said his group of MPs is ready to step in and investigate. Condemning the situation as “intolerable”, Mr Lamb said: “There are no real rules surrounding this. “The police can store these facial images without any proper consideration of them, which raises fundamental and significant civil liberty issues about what they are retaining about us. “It includes people who have not been charged with any crime, or people who have been exonerated.” The Liberal Democrat MP said an additional worry was the disproportionate targeting of ethnic minorities, adding: “There are also concerns about bias – and also about the accuracy of identification. “This is not to say the technology doesn’t have its place, or potential value, but it needs to be operated within a clear legal and regulatory framework.” Mr Lamb said he would push for Baroness Williams, the Home Office minister responsible for biometrics, to face his committee. If the minister failed to provide satisfactory answers – which she failed to do in a letter sent before Christmas, he said – a full inquiry by the committee would follow. Concern has grown about the ‘mugshot’ database as forces have developed the ability to capture images using cameras in public places, as well as of people arrested or questioned. Of the 20 million mugshots currently stored, around 16 million are thought to be held on IT systems that can be searched using facial recognition software, allowing new images to be checked against those existing records. And a further four million, which are also stored, are not searchable using that software. Forces say officers use the technology to identify suspects, offenders and witnesses and to help with searching for unidentified suspects, such as those spotted on CCTV. The practice provoked concern at last year’s Notting Hill carnival, when?facial recognition software was used to scan the faces of revellers, despite protests that it was “unlawful and institutionally racist”. In 2012, the High Court ruled that retaining the images of people not convicted of any crime for six years, before forces decided whether to delete them, was not proportionate. Last year, the Home Office announced a review but said the service would still not have to reconsider retention until after six years – and after ten years for more serious alleged offences. The only response to the court ruling was that people would be able to apply to police forces to have their images deleted at the end of any proceedings. There would be a “presumption in favour of deletion”, but the police would be entitled to refuse such an application. Professor Paul Wiles, the independent?Biometrics Commissioner who warned the database was set to grow and grow, has suggested this would not survive a further legal challenge. He pointed out that just 1,003 of

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