The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said that there should be a code of practice to govern when police forces deploy facial recognition technology.
This follows a recent High Court ruling that found South Wales Police had acted lawfully after a shopper complained the police had breached his human rights by using the technology.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said her investigation had raised “serious concerns over the use of the technology” and is urging the government to introduce a statutory code of practice to govern its use.
Ed Bridges took legal action after his image was taken by the South Wales Police while shopping in Cardiff in a public place in 2017. His image was taken again the following year at a peaceful protect against the arms trade.
Despite the ruling by the High Court in September, civil right group Liberty compared the action to the unregulated taking of DNA or fingerprints without consent. The group is campaigning for the band of the practice.
In London, a man was given an on-the-spot fine of £90 by police after he refused to be scanned by the controversial technology.
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Denham described the use of facial recognition technology as a “step change” in policing. “Never before have we seen technologies with the potential for such widespread invasiveness,” she said in a blog post.
“The results of that investigation raise serious concerns about the use of a technology that relies on huge amounts of sensitive personal information.”
The current laws and practices do not adequately manage the risk associated with the use of the technology, according to Denham. In her investigation, she found that a lack of statutory code increases the risk of legal failures, which will undermine the public’s confidence in its use.
The proposed code will “give the police and the public enough knowledge as to when and how the police can use live facial recognition systems in public spaces,” Denham wrote. She is also calling for more research and development work to be done on algorithms to eliminate bias, particularly ethnic biases.
In her Commissioner’s Opinion, Denham “makes clear that there are well-defined data protection rules which police forces need to follow before and during deployment of live facial recognition. The Opinion recognises the high statutory threshold that must be met to justify the use of live facial recognition, and demonstrate accountability, under the UK’s data protection law.
“That threshold is appropriate considering the potential invasiveness of this technology. My Opinion also sets out the practical steps police forces must take to demonstrate legal compliance.”
Denham will now liaise with the Home Office, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the Biometrics Commissioner, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and policing bodies on how to progress a binding code of practice.