UK police urged to double down on facial recognition

UK police urged to double down on facial recognition


In a controversial move, UK police is being encouraged to double its use of retrospective facial recognition to track down known offenders.

Specifically, in a letter to force chiefs, policing minister Chris Philp said that using the AI-enabled technology  would allow for over 200,000 searches of images against the Police National Database by May 2024.

Philp also encouraged the increase of live facial recognition, which captures live footage of crowds and compares it with a list of wanted suspects to alert the police. The technology is already being heavily used by UK law enforcement — with King Charles III’s coronation in May representing its largest-ever public space deployment in British history.

“AI technology is a powerful tool for good, with huge opportunities to advance policing and cut crime,” the minister said in a statement. Facial recognition, he noted, has already proven its value in identifying criminals and missing people, while freeing up police time and resources.

But while a recent report by the National Physics Laboratory highlighted the high accuracy of these systems, growing concerns over the technology range from the lack of clear regulation and risks of bias to the emergence of an Orwellian state of surveillance.

For example, in October, a cross-party group of MPs and non-profit organisations called on private companies and the UK police to “immediately stop” the use of facial recognition for public surveillance.

“Live facial recognition has never been given explicit approval by Parliament,” tweeted former Brexit secretary David Davis, who also joined the call. “It is a suspicionless mass surveillance tool that has no place in Britain,” he added.

The Home Office has rejected these concerns, and according to Philp, facial recognition has “sound legal basis” that has been confirmed by the courts. The Home Office also said that the public will be notified when entering an area where the technology is used and that personal data is deleted immediately if no match is found.

Meanwhile, the EU’s upcoming AI Act will ban predictive policing and facial recognition in public spaces in an attempt to outlaw invasive massive surveillance systems.


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