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Facing Up To Face Identification Systems (AFR)

In providing regulatory leadership in the context of surveillance camera systems, I remain committed to focusing my energies and influence to support and bring about debate to influence change for the public good.

This week I called together many respected parties to my Advisory Council to have a candid discussion around the use of face identification systems in society.

I was delighted that representatives attended from the Centre for Research Intelligence Surveillance and Privacy (CRISP), CCTV User Group & NASCAM, Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Privacy International, Face Watch, National Police Chief’s Council, Metropolitan Police, South Wales Police, Local Government Association, British Standards Institute Association, National Security Inspectorate, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Home Office, Forensic Science Regulator, Investigatory Powers Commissioners Office,  the Information Commissioners Office, Department of Science and Technology (DSTL) and the Home Office.

I commend them all on the candid and professional contributions they made to the debate, and it was heartening to see parties continuing discussions long after the meeting had concluded.

There are many issues which I consider to merit further consideration by Government and I will reflect these in due course, however there were issues which gave me some encouragement whilst others left me concerned.

I was encouraged to see tangible evidence of successful outcomes from police deployments and a much heightened reliability of the equipment in use, though a commonly agreed methodology of assessment is surely required and the retention and use of custody images of the unconvicted is still not as I would wish it to be.

There is clearly a diametrically opposed interpretation of the accuracy of the systems being used from highly accurate to highly inaccurate. Big Brother Watch's report promoting one interpretation, whilst police, scientists and other analysts taking a completely different view. This must be addressed as the public should have a more balanced perspective as to the accuracy of these capabilities than that which is currently being promoted. I will be championing the development of a single interpretation of the data. Why? So people can genuinely know if this kit works!

I was heartened by the determination of the police to get things right to protect the public despite a void in meaningful guidance being available to them. They are unquestionably listening and doing their best in my view and the decision made by the Metropolitan Police to not deploy the technology at the Notting Hill Carnival, announced at this meeting is evidence of that, and was welcomed by others.

I was reassured in the knowledge that new data protection legislation provides added privacy safeguards to citizens, and pleased that there is an aspiration for further civil engagement planned by CRISP later this year with all regulators,  under the umbrella of the National Surveillance  Camera Strategy.

On the other hand I remain concerned about arguments put to me about the legality of the use of AFR in the first instance and those issues were eloquently represented in solidarity by Big Brother Watch, Liberty and Privacy International and indeed others around the table.

I remain alive to the arguments also put to me from around the table that new data protection legislation does not in itself render overt police camera surveillance lawful.

I understand that in the context of surveillance related impact assessments, Article 8 ECHR rights to privacy tend to dominate, however surveillance technology used in crowded spaces, mean that other fundamental rights and freedoms are potentially brought into play such as the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association for example and should be factored in to any assessment of direct or collateral harm associated with use.

I am cautiously assured by noises that the Home Office are now taking these matters more seriously and I hope that the promised Biometrics Strategy actually engages me in prior consultation at some point before publication.

I do acknowledge the important contribution of other regulatory voices and also the importance of working collectively rather than independently on key aspects of this debate.

Most importantly however I remain cautiously confident. I am confident that the energy and quality of debate I encountered if met with the commitment of those who can and should deliver, will ensure that our strong democracy is served by surveillance technology in legitimate and proportionate circumstances, and in a manner which delivers trust and confidence to a properly informed pubic.


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