Home secretary backs facial recognition trials despite fears of human rights breaches
Sajid Javid, the home secretary, has given support to police trials of facial recognition technology, which is facing judicial review in South Wales and has been claimed to threaten people’s privacy.
Automated facial recognition (AFR) uses computers to identify people by comparing facial features to those held in databases. Facial recognition software is designed to spot suspects in public places, and it has been trialled by forces including South Wales police and the Metropolitan police.
Ed Bridges, who is supported by civil rights group Liberty, mounted legal action in South Wales against the police’s use of AFR in May, claiming his privacy was violated when his image was captured in public and processed. Additionally, he claimed the weak regulation of AFR amounts to a breach of human rights.
Javid, however, has claimed that it is important that police "be on top of the latest technology" in order to combat crime. “I back the police in looking at technology and trialling it and [...] different types of facial recognition technology are being trialled especially by the Met at the moment and I think it’s right they look at that,” he said.
Police facial recognition cameras have been used at festivals, football matches and demonstrations to detect faces and compare them with police photographs stored in databases, but there is no clear legal framework on when or how the technology should be used.
AFR has recently met criticism due to its inaccuracy, particularly when it comes to recognising women and ethnic minorities. Hannah Couchman of Liberty, a civil rights organisation, said: “The technology also discriminates. It’s more likely to misidentify people of colour and women and subject them to a police stop due to a false match. This technology has no place on the streets of any rights-respecting democracy.”
Criticisms of AFR are surfacing as police step up their fight against online child abuse, in which biometrics will be “game-changing”, according to Javid. According to the Home Office, new biometrics technologies will help speed up investigations and reduce the number of indecent images officers have to comb through.
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