A new report published by Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing has told Police Scotland that its proposed facial recognition technology cannot be used until certain safeguards have been introduced.
The report said that the legal basis that would be relied on must be demonstrated, including its compliance with human rights and data protection legislation and the removal of ethnic minority biases.
Without these, the Sub-Committee said, investment in the technology would be ‘unjustifiable’.
Recommendations were also put forward, including the Scottish Government explicitly regulating the use of the technology and that any new legislation should cover private companies and other public sector organisations.
The Sub-Committee is also requesting that the current use of facial recognition technology be reviewed to consider the impact of the police being able to access images held illegally.
The plan to deploy live facial recognition software was introduced in Police Scotland’s ‘Policing 2026’ strategy.
The technology works by flagging potential suspects in real-time, cross-referencing live images from CCTV cameras and police image databases.
An assessment by Police Scotland that it is likely to have a positive impact on equalities and human rights has been challenged by the Sub-Committee.
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Speaking as the report was published, Sub-Committee Convener, John Finnie MSP, said: “The Sub-Committee is reassured that Police Scotland has no plans to introduce live facial recognition technology at this time. It is clear that this technology is in no fit state to be rolled out or indeed to assist the police with their work.
“Current live facial recognition technology throws up far too many ‘false positives’ and contains inherent biases that are known to be discriminatory.
“Our inquiry has also shone a light on other issues with facial recognition technology that we now want the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Government to consider. Not least amongst these are the legal challenges against similar technologies in England and Wales, and the apparent lack of law explicitly governing its use in Scotland – by any organisation.
“So whether this technology is being used by private companies, public authorities or the police, the Scottish Government needs to ensure there is a clear legal framework to protect the public and police alike from operating in a facial recognition Wild West.”