Govt facial recognition delays ‘unacceptable’

As revealed by Sky News last year, police in the UK have amassed the facial images of more than 20 million people, including hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens.

These images have been used to automatically scan crowds across the country despite questions over whether this constitutes illegal mass surveillance.

facial recognition technology
Image:Just 67 people have asked police to delete their images

The activity has also been challenged by a High Court ruling in 2012 which said that retaining the pictures of innocent people on the custody images database was unlawful.

Govt facial recognition delays ‘unacceptable’
Govt facial recognition delays ‘unacceptable’

Despite this ruling, the government said it would be too expensive to delete innocent people’s images and told police forces only to consider whether to delete images if the innocent individuals themselves complained.

This was slammed as “unacceptable” by the MPs, who explained that “unconvicted individuals may not know that they can apply for their images to be deleted”.

The committee noted a report by Associated Press that only 67 of hundreds of thousands of innocent individuals had applied to police forces to have their images deleted.

In a report published on Friday, MPs on the science and technology committee criticised the government for being four years late in producing the biometrics strategy it had promised would address these issues.


Video:Facial recognition tech wrongly identifying people as criminals

The biometrics strategy is now technically five years overdue as it was originally to be published as a joint biometrics and forensics strategy in 2013.

Although the government said it would be publishing separate strategies in 2014, the publication date for the biometrics strategy has still not been confirmed.

MPs have demanded that it must be published by June of this year.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Analysis of images plays a critical role in helping the police to protect the public. When doing so it is important that the police act legally, ethically, and transparently.

“We are examining whether, with new police IT systems, it will be technically feasible to link custody images to conviction status as is the case with fingerprints and DNA.”

The Home Office say they are now considering the Select Committee’s report and are “committed to publishing the Biometrics Strategy in June”.

The forensics strategy was two years late when it was published in 2016, although it was still criticised as “inadequate” and “vague and incoherent”.

Image:Planned forensic retesting involves all but one of Britain’s police forces

A series of scandals have since rocked police handling of forensic evidence, prompting the MPs to demand a rewrite of the strategy.

The report published on Friday states that police are “unduly focusing on cutting costs” which is causing damage to producing evidence.

Their criticism comes as an urgent review is being conducted into the Metropolitan Police amid allegations that 33 cases were affected by forensics mishandling.

Last November, Sky News reported that rogue laboratory staff at the outsourced forensics firm Randox Testing Services may have tampered with evidence in more than 10,000 cases, including murders and sex crimes.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “”The majority of forensic services are being delivered to a higher-quality standard than ever before and are closely scrutinised.

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“We are, however, taking the opportunity to work with policing partners to review provision of forensic science.

“This work will ensure providers and police continue to provide sound forensic evidence for the criminal justice system.”

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