British police and facial recognition

A study into the use of facial recognition by the British police reveals a lack of discipline. Specifically, police forces do not always respect legal and ethical standards when using this technology.

Lack of accountability and transparency

Facial recognition technology could a priori facilitate police work (and those of other countries). Nevertheless, the technology seems to have obvious shortcomings, not to mention abuses by the police.

According to research, the British database often includes photos of innocent people. These are people who have been arrested, but not convicted. For the police, simply storing these photos is detrimental. Moreover, it may affect search results using facial recognition technology.

In the event of an error, the researchers revealed a lack of responsibility on the part of the British authorities.. There is no clear recourse for individuals or communities adversely affected by the use or misuse of the technology. “Police forces are not necessarily responsible or liable for damages caused by facial recognition technology,” the researchers explain.

British police: facial recognition raises discrimination issues

The use of facial recognition also raises discrimination issues. This is essentially due to the biases inherent in the technology, which disproportionately identifies women, people of color and people with disabilities.

Facial recognition is racist, from the way it was built to the way it is used. The public fears that the government will use the technology to track movements and target people. This is based on their race, religion, political affiliation or speech.

Furthermore, it is well known that this technology can store and analyze a large number of facial images without the individual’s knowledge or consent. Against this background, researchers point to a possible “dissuasive effect” if facial recognition leads to a reluctance to exercise fundamental rights, such as the right to demonstrate.

The public may in fact decide to forego their rights rather than take the risk of being identified in a crowd. Given these shortcomings, the researchers say they support calls for “a ban on police use of facial recognition in publicly accessible spaces”.

What about France?

The French police make extensive use of facial recognition technology, particularly at airports. In addition, some French schools have adopted facial recognition technology to thwart intruders and maintain a higher level of security at school entrances.

Facial recognition: the British police are not doing so well. And the French?

In 2019, Cédric O, Secretary of State for Digital and the Internet, also explained his desire to pursue an experiment on the use of real-time facial recognition on certain government public service sites.

If no cases of abuse are reported, civil liberties groups are nonetheless questioning the use of this technology, particularly in terms of privacy protection. In May, a group of French senators tabled a report advocating the creation of strict guidelines for facial recognition.

The report was presented by Socialist Senator Jérôme Durain, Union Centrist Senator Arnaud de Belenet and right-wing Les Républicains Senator Marc-Philippe Daubresse. They emphasized the need for strong “red lines” which would dictate exactly what is and isn’t allowed when using facial recognition.