UK Information Commissioner concerned about the use of facial recognition technology by the police

14 May 2018

The UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has expressed concerns about the use of automatic facial recognition technology (FRT) by law enforcement authorities. Noting that, 'there may be significant public safety benefits' from the use of FRT by the police, Denham outlined a series of concerns stemming from such use, ranging from privacy considerations, to a lack of transparency in how the technology is deployed, issues of effectiveness and accuracy, and risks of bias and false positive matches. The commissioner is also worried about the absence of 'a comprehensive governance framework to oversee FRT deployment', and stated that authorities 'must have clear evidence to demonstrate that the use of FRT in public spaces is effective in resolving the problem that it aims to address'. Denham's statements come in the context of a report released by the Big Brother Watch organisation – ‘Face off: The lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing’ – which argued, among other things, that the use of FRT has led to a 'staggering' number of innocent people being inaccurately flagged as suspects. The report called for UK authorities to stop the use of automated facial recognition software with surveillance cameras, expressing concerns over the impact of such software on 'on individuals’ rights to private life and freedom of expression, and the risk of discriminatory impact'. In response, police authorities argued that their use of FRT is accompanied by safeguards to prevent action being taken against innocent people.

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Historically, telecommunications, broadcasting, and other related areas were separate industry segments; they used different technologies and were governed by different regulations.

Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.


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