A Cambridge University report says all UK law enforcement should be required to use a new audit to ensure responsible use of biometric recognition. A researcher from the school applied the check to three police departments to see what would happen. All three failed.
Among other policy recommendations made in the 151-page document, police use of facial recognition in public spaces should be banned.
The finding applies to all types of facial biometrics for identification, including live, retrospective and mobile phone applications, according to author Evani Radiya-Dixit, who studies facial recognition policymaking.
Radiya-Dixit, a visiting researcher at the university’s Minderoo Center for Technology and Democracy, tested her audit on three police facial recognition deployments in England and Wales.
These were the South Wales Police operational biometric trial deployments between 2017 and 2019 (which were ultimately ruled unlawful by the UK Court of Appeal), the live facial recognition trial of the Metropolitan Police Service between 2016 and 2019 and the South Wales Police mobile phone trial. facial recognition between 2021 and 2022.
“We found that all three deployments did not meet the (proposed) minimum ethical and legal standards for the governance of facial recognition technology,” the report said.
They did not comply because the lawsuits were “very broad in scope” and may have “infringed the right to privacy”. And the facial biometrics systems deployed on those occasions “have not been transparently assessed for bias in the technology or discrimination in its use.”
The deployments did not guarantee the presence of a reliable human in the decision-making loop. There were also no clear redress measures for those harmed by the use of facial recognition, according to the article.
Finally, the research indicated that these deployments lacked regular oversight by an independent ethics committee and the public.
“For example, the ethics body overseeing the South Wales Police trials did not have independent human rights or data protection experts, based on available meeting notes. Nor did South Wales Police consult the public or civil society for comment ahead of their trials,” the document read.
There “have been improvements in the way the police use facial recognition, but there is still work to be done”.
The author makes three recommendations to protect people against algorithm errors and abuse.
The first calls on regulators, civil society groups and researchers to use the proposed audit to examine police use of facial recognition. They should also assess the use of biometric technologies used in other contexts and regions. The third recommendation calls for a ban on police use of facial recognition in public spaces.
“To protect human rights and improve accountability in the use of technology, we need to ask ourselves what values we want to embed in technology and also move from high-level values and principles to practice,” concludes the report.
It comes days after the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner published his first report saying Parliament should have confidence in the way biometric technologies are used for policing and criminal justice purposes in that country.
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