Information Commissioner considers legal action against users of facial recognition technology

Elizabeth Denham said there was a ‘real risk’ that the public safety benefits of the state-of-the-art technology would be lost

"It is deeply disturbing and undemocratic that police are using technology that is nearly entirely inaccurate, that they have no legal power for, and that poses a major risk to our freedoms".

The 15 NGOs calling for police to stop using automated facial recognition are: Big Brother Watch, Article 19, defenddigitalme, Football Supporters Federation, Index on Censorship, Institute of Race Relations, Liberty, The Monitoring Group, Netpol, Open Rights Group, Police Action Lawyers Group, Race Equality Foundation, Race On The Agenda, Runnymede Trust, Tottenham Rights. Potential matches are then flagged, allowing police to investigate further.

The system, though, hasn't had much success in positive identifications either: the report showed there have been just two accurate matches, and neither person was a criminal.

"All alerts against the watch list are deleted after 30 days".

Technological advances in the last 20 years have rapidly increased the ability of online systems to identify individuals.

It was even used by the Metropolitan Police to scan for people on a mental health watch list at the 2017 Remembrance Sunday event in London.

The group described this as a "chilling example of function creep" and an example of the risky effect it could have on the rights of marginalised people.

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However, the Otago Daily Times reported a different security system that "bridges the gap between businesses and the police" was now used at the Centre City New World in Dunedin, among other South Island stores.

"Where CCTV - which may include facial recognition technology - is used in our stores, signage alerts customers to the fact images may be taken, as per privacy requirements".

The Met Police's facial recognition system had the worst track record, with only 2% matching accuracy and with 98% wrongly identified people.

"I will also carefully consider the reports recently issued by Civil Society, Big Brother Watch in the United Kingdom and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the U.S.".

SWP - which has used AFR at 18 public places since it was first introduced in May 2017 - has fared only slightly better.

The SWP said that false positives were to be expected while the technology develops, but that the accuracy was improving, and added that no one had been arrested after a false match - again because of human intervention.

"We use multiple strategies to protect our people, customers and product and we make no apology for this".

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"If an incorrect match has been made, officers will explain to the individual what has happened and invite them to see the equipment along with providing them with a Fair Processing Notice".

New data protection rules are about to come into force in the United Kingdom, requiring organizations to assess the risks of new technologies, particularly when biometric data is involved, and also to provide a data protection impact assessment to Denham's office in some circumstances.

Ms Dalziel also pointed out that many times the CCTV software produced inaccurate results, and that "you shouldn't use information about people unless were satisfied it's accurate".

The Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles raised concerns past year about a database of custody photographs that includes 19 million images, hundreds of thousands of which belong to people who were later acquitted or never charged with a crime.

In March, Williams said that because images can only be deleted manually, weeding out innocent people "will have significant costs and be hard to justify given the off-setting reductions forces would be required to find to fund it".

"'Costs' are not an acceptable reason for the British Government not to comply with the law", it said.

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