The Science and Technology Committee have today published a letter sent to them from Baroness Williams on behalf of the Government.
Thanks to the publication we have learned that the Government have given the police operational powers to use facial biometrics and facial recognition systems as a policy decision.
In the letter Baroness Williams states that Government policy has been decided “rather than waiting for the publication of the [Biometric] Strategy.”
The “policy” we are told, is “that facial searching plays an important role in the detection and prevention of crime” and that “A decision to deploy facial recognition systems is an operational one for the police.”
That a policy announcement has to all intents and purposes been made in a letter to a Select Committee rather than in publication of the strategy, publication of draft legislation or as a debate in Parliament shows that the Government continue to play fast and loose with the very serious and sensitive issue of facial recognition.
We urge the Science and Technology Committee to question this “policy” announcement as a matter of urgency.
Furthermore we hope the Committee will seek further detail on the extention of “the remit of the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group from DNA and fingerprints to all biometrics” which the Government have undertaken in order to provide “independent ethical oversight of police use of biometrics”.
Whilst we welcome the extention of the ethics group oversight into this area we have to acknowledge that without any outlined legislation or regulation oversight is little more than marking homework.
Proper oversight and scrutiny of these powers can only be achieved if the powers are clearly defined, outlined, drafted and debated as legislative or regulatory issues.
The letter ends with the Government confirming that the retention of innocent people’s custody images is to continue. The letter cites the decisions made by the Home Office in its Custody Image Review.
We continue to challenge the retention of innocent people’s custody images and facial biometrics. Our FaceOff campaign details our opposition, and the reasons why. For more information click here and take action.
To read Baroness Williams’ letter in full click here.