Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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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.
April 6, 2022


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Facial Recognition

Surveillance Camera Commissioner warns against use of facial recognition for witness identification following Police guidance

The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales, Professor Fraser Sampson, has warned police forces across the country against using facial recognition technology for witness identification, following new guidance from the College of Policing.

FraserSampson-BiometricsSurveillanceCommissionerUK-21Sampson has described the idea as a “somewhat sinister development”, according to reports, as it “treats everyone like walk-on extras on a police film set rather than as individual citizens”.

The idea was suggested in the new guidance published by the College of Policing, which is designed to ensure police forces in England and Wales take a “consistent approach when using technology to find individuals who are sought by the police”, as well as providing a “clear legal and ethical framework for its use”.

While setting out various principles in line with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, such as proportionate use and making it clear that live facial recognition (LFR) is being used to those in the vicinity, the second part of the document provides guidance on locating “victims, witnesses and close associates via LFR”.

For those deemed as people who are “reasonably suspected of having information”, the College of Police guidance states:

“If those people who are considered to have seen the offence can be located and they are assessed by the force as having relevant information that could be vital to progress the investigations, their location could bring violent offenders who present a risk to society.”

The Commissioner has warned against this use, and the matter is expected to be raised in the House of Lords. Civil liberty campaigners have also protested against the guidance, claiming it was “an atrocious policy and a hammer blow for privacy and liberty”, with the Big Brother Watch group describing it as “Orwellian surveillance technology”.

Rob Watts, CEO of facial recognition provider Corsight AI, commented on the issue: “…it is first important that The College of Policing is recognised for putting together such a clear and comprehensive guidance on this challenging issue. Although some may believe the police using biometric capabilities to search for witnesses and vulnerable people could be concerning, police forces sometimes have to deal with circumstances that can justify the means.

“Imagine needing to urgently search for a witness in a public place to prevent or detect an imminent serious crime, such as terrorism, rape or a kidnap, or looking for a missing child at risk of harm. It can be almost as difficult to justify not resorting to a legitimate tactic to save a life simply because someone’s privacy is offended. The key considerations here have to be legitimacy, legality, necessity, proportionality and equality.”

The police use of live facial recognition has regularly come under scrutiny – best highlighted in the South West Wales case in 2020, where its use between 2017 and 2019 was deemed unlawful.


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