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Met Commissioner 'very comfortable' with facial recognition technology

She said the public will expect police to take advantage of developing technology
Published - 06/07/2018 By - JJ Hutber- Police Oracle

Met Commissioner Cressida Dick is “delighted” with the public debating the merits of facial recognition cameras and “has no reason at all” to doubt her officers.

Last month the Home Office published its long awaited biometrics strategy, proposing an oversight and advisory board to make recommendations about governance.

Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles criticised the report for failing to discuss the Home Office’s future plans for sharing of biometric data or proposing legislation to regulate the use of biometric technology.

“Given that new biometrics are being rapidly deployed or trialled this failure to set out more definitively what the future landscape will look like in terms of the use and governance of biometrics appears short sighted at best,” he said.

Campaign group Big Brother Watch is working with Green Party peer Jenny Jones to launch legal action against MPS over its use of the cameras while human rights group Liberty is supporting a similar legal challenge against South Wales Police.

But Comm Dick told the London Assembly Police and Crime Panel she has no concerns about trialling the cameras.

When asked how she felt about continuing to use the cameras while the “ethical procedural and legal dimensions are being defined” she simply responded: “Very comfortable.”

She added: “The world is changing very fast.

“Facial recognition is a fantastic example. 

"I remember being told 12 years ago facial recognition is just around the corner, it’s going to mean you won’t be able to use undercover officers and, and, and (sic). Well here we are and it is being used.

“It’s now beginning to move really fast like all of the rest of technology and it’s getting better and better and better by the minute and can be potentially combined with other technologies.

“A really useful function for the Home Office is to make sure the government are engaging in thorough debates with the public about the balance between privacy and security in the light of changing technologies.”

Commissioner Dick said she thinks the public will expect police to want to use it.

“We believe that the public would expect that if there’s a technology that we can use lawfully that the notion that that technology might be used in limited circumstances I think the public would expect us to be thinking about how we can use that technology. 

"Seeing whether it would effective and efficient for us, and that’s exactly what we are doing.

“I’m very comfortable that we’re doing the trials.

“They are genuinely trials.

“We’ll get to the end of the trials, we’re doing a full evaluation of that to see whether it’s a useful way of doing things.

“I have a commander who authorises every deployment and he runs through a set of questions very like any intrusive activity. It’s very carefully monitored.

“The lawyers are all over it.”

She said she is “delighted” the Home Office is going to establish an advisory and oversight board and how people are engaging in debates about the issue.

“I’m very comfortable with what we’re doing and we’re going to carry on with the trials.”

When challenged by Green Party panel member Sian Berry about reports from Liberty that a person was misidentified during trials in Stratford on June 28 yet still subjected to a search, she said she had “no reason to doubt what the officers have done at all”.

“It is plausible there is a situation in which a person will be spoken to for a variety of circumstances as well during the deployment of this technology.

“I am not expecting this machine to only pick out people who are definitely wanted. That is not how they work. They work to suggest and then there is a degree of judgement.

“It’s a tool. Tt’s a bit like having what we call a super recogniser. I’m not expecting it to result in a lot of arrests.

“These are control circumstances with other operations going on around.

“You’ll be familiar with the fact that at Stratford we did arrest two people with very large knives during that operation.”

She confirmed the Met Police is carrying out five more trials including another one in Stratford later this month as it is considered a hotspot for violent crime.  

There are around 21 million images on the Police National Database (PND), 12.5 million of which have been enrolled in a gallery which can be searched using facial recognition software.

Controversy has centred on the retention of photographs of those who were released without charge or later cleared.

There is no precise figure for the number of images of innocent people held on the PND but it is believed to run to hundreds of thousands.

A Home Office review published in February 2017 concluded that un-convicted individuals should have the right to apply for the deletion of their custody image from all police systems.

Elsewhere, Mr Wiles's report disclosed that the number of individuals whose DNA and/or fingerprints were held on counter-terrorism databases increased by more than 4,000 from 7,800 in October 2015 to 11,841 at the end of 2017.

Around one in five of those whose biometric records were held on the databases had never been convicted of a recordable offence.

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