Government should recommend moratorium on use of facial recognition in Scotland, academics say

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Holyrood is being urged to recommend a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology - especially by the police.


Academics raised concerns about "deficiencies" in such new technology, and also claimed it was "intrusive".

The government has been urged to become an international leader in ethical technology policy by recommending a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in Scotland. Picture: Mike MacKenzie

The government has been urged to become an international leader in ethical technology policy by recommending a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in Scotland. Picture: Mike MacKenzie

In submissions to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament's Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, they argued for a moratorium to be put in place.

In its submission, Police Scotland was clear the force has "no current plans to introduce live facial recognition software or any other new biometric technology".

But Angela Daly, from Strathclyde Law School, urged the committee to "become an international leader in ethical technology policy by recommending a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in Scotland, especially by police forces".

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She argued for that because of "the deficiencies of facial recognition technology, the intrusive ways in which facial recognition technology is already being used to monitor indiscriminately the general public (and not only those suspected of a crime) and the less-than ethical conditions in which facial recognition technology is being researched and developed".

Dr Daly stated: "I urge the committee to consider deeply the impact on the privacy and other human rights of the general public in being subjected to invasive mass-monitoring by facial recognition technology used by police."

Public place face recognition

Dr Garfield Benjamin from Solent University in Southampton also argued Parliament should introduce a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in public places.

"This should ideally be permanent, or at least until significant regulatory frameworks have been put in place," he said.

He added: "Should facial recognition ever be deployed in Scotland, an independent review and commissioner should be established.

"Police Scotland should focus their already constrained resources on supporting officers more directly to perform their duties and build trust with communities."

He spoke out against the use of such technology, saying: "There is an inversion of innocence with facial recognition.

"When a member of the public enters a space monitored by facial recognition, they are automatically placed in a police line-up.

"This fundamentally changes the role and power of the police, from one in which evidence is a case must be built to prove guilt into one in which everyone is assumed guilty all the time.

"Should Police Scotland (or, indeed, any police force) go ahead with the use of facial recognition then they are making an active choice to shift policing into a state of constant surveillance, forcing citizens to live beneath a constant machinic gaze."

Another submission, from Joe Purshouse of the University of East Anglia, together with Professor Liz Campbell of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and Dr Marcin Betkier and Dr Nessa Lynch, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, argued: "Any use of facial recognition searching on the UK Police National Database may violate human rights laws, and has particularly serious implications for non-convicted persons, whose images are retained on that database."

Mitigating concerns first

They recommended facial recognition technology "should not be deployed in a policing context until concerns over the technology's effectiveness and potential bias have been confronted and mitigated".

They went on to suggest a moratorium be put in place "until statutory provisions specifically regulating the use of FRT have been introduced and an oversight and evaluation system has been established".

Gillian MacDonald, Assistant Chief Constable with Police Scotland said that "fundamentally, opportunities exist to use new technologies, such as facial recognition, to enhance police and law enforcement capabilities".

Police Scotland already has the capability to carry out retrospective facial matching for the prevention and detection of crime using the Police National Database, she said.

She stressed: "We have no current plans to introduce live facial recognition software or any other new biometric technology."

But Ms MacDonald also said: "To ensure Police Scotland operates efficiently and effectively it is vital that we continue to explore, scrutinise and adapt by embracing new technologies (including facial recognition) and, subject to regulatory parameters, invest for the long term."

She said the force welcomed plans to establish a Scottish Biometrics Commissioner, adding that Police Scotland would await the decision of MSPs on the legislation for this before proceeding with any proposed use of such biometric technology.

Meanwhile sub-committee convener John Finnie said MSPs would "closely study" all the submissions they had received.

He said "While the police service need to be able to fight crime effectively, any intrusion into citizens' privacy must be proportionate. We look forward to beginning our inquiry."