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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry.James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
February 13, 2023


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Video surveillance

ANPR capabilities and the future of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice feature in Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s 2021-22 Annual Report

The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2021-2022 was laid out before UK parliament on 9 February, setting out findings and observations about the current use of biometrics and overt surveillance in the UK.

The Commissioner, Professor Fraser Sampson, is responsible for overseeing police use of DNA and fingerprints in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for encouraging the proper use of public space surveillance cameras.

Issues discussed include:

  • Improvements in data losses from Counter Terrorism databases (paragraph 27)
  • Increase in police requests to keep biometrics of unconvicted people (paragraphs 28-32)
  • Police losses of DNA through sample handling errors (paragraphs 72-75)
  • Caps on samples by Forensic Science Providers (paragraph 76)
  • Current trends and the future use of biometrics (paragraphs 87-92)
  • Police use of facial recognition and Artificial Intelligence (AI) (paragraphs 93-116)
  • Demise of the Surveillance Camera Code (paragraphs 121-129)
  • UK failures in ethical procurement of surveillance equipment related to human rights abuses in China (paragraphs 133-138)
  • Lack of regulation and mission creep in use of ANPR, the UKs largest non-military database (paragraphs 139-147)
  • Use of drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (paragraphs 157 to 165)

Growing use and capabilities of ANPR

A significant part of the report was dedicated to the growing use of ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) systems. According to its findings, police use of the technology has resulted in the largest non-military database in the UK, with approximately 75-80 million hits from cameras daily.

While it has been in use for some time, Sampson pointed to the growing capabilities of ANPR, such as the capabilities to also capture non-vehicular data and monitoring people, behaviour and networks.

The report found that ANPR currently lacks, but urgently needs:

  • a firm legal basis for its operation
  • oversight through an accountable governance framework
  • monitoring by an independent body with a duty to report publicly

Surveillance Camera Code of Practice – What is its future?

The report references the incoming Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which is set to remove the functions of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner and abolish the role.

Sampson highlights that the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice remains the “only legal instrument” to acknowledge that Live Facial Recognition has a legitimate role to play in policing, noting that the code has significant value in the future in enabling both the public and private sectors to make legitimate use of available technology, regardless of his role’s abolition.

However, he also acknowledges that the Code has “not kept pace with the rapid evolution of technology”, with video surveillance encompassing more than simply ‘CCTV’ in 2023. Meanwhile, police no longer rely on their own surveillance network, but “routinely access” the capabilities of other public bodies, organisations and citizens – from business CCTV networks to personal devices.

Sampson goes on to suggest the Code should be developed further and provide greater regulation for video surveillance systems outside of the police and local authorities (paragraph 128).

The full report is available to download and read from the gov.uk website, here.

‘Waking up to the opportunities and threats presented by AI-driven biometric surveillance’

Professor Sampson said: “The areas of biometrics and surveillance are becoming both increasingly important and increasingly inter-related. In recent years we have seen an explosion of surveillance technology in the public and private realms, with devices such as drones and body-worn video, dashcams and smart doorbells. At the same time, there have been enormous advances in the power of AI to exploit the vast amount of surveillance data now being produced.


Professor Fraser Sampson, UK Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner

“I believe that many of the issues raised in my report show that we urgently need to wake up to the opportunities presented, and the threats posed, by the explosion of capability in AI-driven biometric surveillance. If we fail, we risk missing out on the potential benefits it can offer and exposing ourselves to the potential dangers it poses.

“Now more than ever, we need a clear, comprehensive and coherent framework to ensure proper regulation and accountability in these crucial areas.

“It’s already the case that the police are not making as much use as the pubic might expect of biometric surveillance technology such as facial recognition. At the same time, there is uncertainty around the regulatory framework for ensuring legitimacy and accountability if and when they do use such technology.

“Biometric surveillance technologies can undoubtedly be intrusive to privacy and raise other human rights considerations, but there is no question that they can also be powerful weapons in the fight against serious crime and so safeguard other fundamental rights such as the right to life and freedom from degrading or inhumane treatment.

“The extent to which the public will tolerate facial recognition and other emerging biometric surveillance technology will depend largely upon whether they believe there are mechanisms in place to make sure they’re used lawfully, responsibly and according to a set of clear principles that ensure their use is dictated by what society agrees is acceptable, and not simply by what technology makes possible.”

Selected quotes from the OBSCC Annual Report

“At the time of reporting there are calls for the legislative framework governing biometrics to be revisited, not just as proposed within the government’s data reform consultation, but also in broader terms.” (Paragraph 89 & see footnote 55)

“There is a clear case for revisiting our approach” to regulating the use of biometrics in light of technological change.” (Paragraph 91)

“As Parliament begins to consider the proposed legislation for reform, there is an opportunity – perhaps a necessity – to address for the first time the many pressing questions around the legitimate role for newly-intrusive technology such as facial recognition in biometric surveillance by the police and law enforcement.” (Paragraph 94)

“I have expressed some concerns about the intention to use facial recognition technology to find ‘potential witnesses. While I can understand there may be some exceptional, very high harm events such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters where retrospective facial recognition might legitimately make a significant contribution to an understanding of what happened, those events would be mercifully rare and wholly exceptional.” (Paragraph 105)

“The ramifications of AI-driven facial recognition in policing and law enforcement are profound enough to be taken seriously and close enough to require our immediate attention.” (Paragraph 161)

The Annual Report for 2021-22 is likely to the last annual report by the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner because abolition of the role is proposed in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill currently on its way through Parliament.


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