The facial recognition criteria police in the United Kingdom use is so vague that it could be used to target “literally anybody,” according to criticism from a senior MP.
Sky News reports that it has seen internal documents from South Wales Police, the police force at the forefront of facial recognition technology in the UK. Those documents state that the watchlists constructed by police to determine who is or is not picked up by facial recognition could include “persons where intelligence is required.”
Such an imprecise criteria has been described as “extraordinarily wide-ranging” by David Davis MP, a Conservative politician. “That could be anybody, literally anybody,” Davis said. “As a level of justification it is impossible to test. You couldn’t go to a court and say: ‘Can you judge whether this is right or wrong?’ … You’re going to use this facial recognition to arrest people, to follow them, to keep data on them, to intrude on their privacy – all of this with no real test of the sort of person you’re looking for.”
Moreover, the watchlist may include photos of people found innocent of crimes, but who could not be taken off the South Wales Police’s database because it’s “impracticable at this stage to manually remove unconvicted custody images from AFR Locate watchlists”.
The average watchlist contains 500-700 images taken from a larger police database of 450,000 photos. Those photos are captured from CCTV cameras, wearable cameras, and social media.
South Wales Police is also being challenged in a judicial review by Liberty, a human rights organization that argues the technology goes against fundamental human rights by filming citizens, and taking their biometric data, without their consent.
This is not the first time that the police’s facial recognition technology has been criticised for being too vague. A recent independent report found that databases used by the Metropolitan Police were built with “significant ambiguity” over their watchlist criteria, and individuals whose cases were already closed were re-identified by the police. It was also criticised for the apparent inability for citizens to give consent to be filmed.
The trials were backed by ex-Home Secretary Savid Javid, and are likely to continue under current Home Secretary Priti Patel, but a committee of MPs have called for the government to end the tests due to concerns over the technology’s accuracy and inherent bias.
South Wales Police, and other forces, have defended the use of facial recognition. Speaking to Sky News, the police said that its watchlist was proportionate and necessary, with specific purposes for every person included on the watchlist.
The battle over facial recognition technologies is also happening in the US. Currently, three cities have banned the technology over fears such as misuse of force, false incarceration, and minority-based persecution.