|Recognising the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’; Blog posted by Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, 31/10/19|
Live facial recognition technology – police forces need to slow down and justify its use.
As far back as Sir Robert Peel, the powers of the police have always been seen as dependent on public support of their actions. It’s an ideal starting point as we consider uses of technology like live facial recognition (LFR).
How far should we, as a society, consent to police forces reducing our privacy in order to keep us safe? That was the starting point to my office’s investigation into the trials of LFR by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and South Wales Police (SWP). LFR is a step change in policing techniques; never before have we seen technologies with the potential for such widespread invasiveness. The results of that investigation raise serious concerns about the use of a technology that relies on huge amounts of sensitive personal information.
We found that the current combination of laws, codes and practices relating to LFR will not drive the ethical and legal approach that’s needed to truly manage the risk that this technology presents.
The absence of a statutory code that speaks to the specific challenges posed by LFR will increase the likelihood of legal failures and undermine public confidence in its use. As a result, the key recommendation arising from the ICO’s investigation is to call for government to introduce a statutory and binding code of practice on the deployment of LFR.
This is necessary in order to give the police and the public enough knowledge as to when & how the police can use LFR systems in public spaces. We will therefore be liaising with Home Office, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the Biometrics Commissioner, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and policing bodies on how to progress our recommendation for a statutory code of practice.
Taken together, the recommendations from our investigation have such far reaching applications for law enforcement in the UK that I have taken the step of issuing the first Commissioner’s Opinion under our data protection laws.
My office’s investigation has concluded, but our work in this area is far from over. Public support for the police using facial recognition to catch criminals is high, but less so when it comes to the private sector operating the technology in a quasi-law enforcement capacity. We are separately investigating this use of LFR in the private sector, including where LFR in used in partnership with law enforcement. We will be reporting on those findings in due course.