UK gov stalls on face recognition strategy
14 December 2017 17:09 GMT

Senior officials in London have admitted that a strategy governing the controversial police use of facial recognition technology is facing delays.

In response to the latest request for a status update from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford admitted the strategy was still not finished.

“It will unfortunately not be possible to publish the strategy until next year,” she wrote in a letter to committee chair Norman Lamb, after admitting she was aware that publication “has taken much longer than we originally indicated”.

“There is a clear need to strike a balance between protecting an individual's privacy and giving the police the tools they need to keep us safe. A decision to deploy facial recognition systems is an operational one for the police.”

“[The strategy] ranges across many areas of policy, some of which are developing rapidly,” she said.

“After reviewing it carefully, I have decided that it cannot be finalised until further work has been done in some of these areas.”

Norman Lamb MP, chair of the science and technology committee, told Sky News that the now five-year delay was "intolerable" as police continued to operate the controversial technology while watchdogs warn that it could potentially be illegal.

Earlier this year, London's Met Police used facial recognition software to scan thousands of Notting Hill Carnival-goers, but privacy advocates complained of potential racial profiling.

The Met trialled the system last year, but it failed to pick out any suspects. As facial recognition technology continues to improve at a rapid pace, the force believes it has the potential to provide a powerful new tool to law enforcement. Only images that come up as a match with a wanted offender will be retained by police, the Met said at the time.

According to The Guardian, Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said:

“This intrusive biometric surveillance has no place at the Notting Hill carnival. There is no basis in law for facial recognition, no transparency around its use and we’ve had no public or parliamentary debate about whether this technology could ever be lawful in a democracy."