Wed 3 Jul 19
A new report by researchers from the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project, based at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, identifies significant flaws with the way live facial recognition (LFR) technology was trialled in London by the Metropolitan Police Service.
This is the first independently-funded academic report into the use of LFR technology by a UK police force and it raises concerns about the Metropolitan Police’s procedures, practices and human rights compliance during the trials.
The authors of the report, Professor Peter Fussey and Dr Daragh Murray, conclude that it is “highly possible” the Metropolitan Police’s use of LFR to-date would be held unlawful if challenged in court. They have also documented what they believe to be significant operational shortcomings in the trials which could affect the viability of any future use of LFR technology.
In light of their findings Professor Fussey and Dr Murray are calling for all live trials of LFR to be ceased until these concerns are addressed, noting that it is essential that human rights compliance is ensured before deployment, and that there be an appropriate level of public scrutiny and debate on a national level.
After reviewing the report, the Metropolitan Police chose not to exercise its right of reply.
Speaking of the report, Professor Fussey said: “This report was based on detailed engagement with the Metropolitan Police’s processes and practices surrounding the use of live facial recognition technology.
“It is appropriate that issues such as those relating to the use of LFR are subject to scrutiny, and the results of that scrutiny made public.
“The Metropolitan Police’s willingness to support this research is welcomed. The report demonstrates a need to reform how certain issues regarding the trialling or incorporation of new technology and policing practices are approached, and underlines the need to effectively incorporate human rights considerations into all stages of the Metropolitan Police’s decision making processes.
“It also highlights a need for meaningful leadership on these issues at a national level.”
Dr Murray said: “This report raises significant concerns regarding the human rights law compliance of the trials.
“The legal basis for the trials was unclear and is unlikely to satisfy the ‘in accordance with the law’ test established by human rights law.
“It does not appear that an effective effort was made to identify human rights harms or to establish the necessity of LFR.
“Ultimately, the impression is that human rights compliance was not built into the Metropolitan Police’s systems from the outset, and was not an integral part of the process.”
In order to compile the report, Professor Fussey and Dr Murray were granted unprecedented access to the final six of the ten trials run by the Metropolitan Police, running from June 2018 to February 2019. They joined officers on location in the LFR control rooms and engaged with officers responding on the ground. They also attended briefing and de-briefing sessions, and planning meetings.
The main concerns raised in the report are:
Further issues highlighted include:
Professor Fussey is a leading criminologist specialising in surveillance and society, based in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex. He is currently leading the new human rights, data and technology strand of the National Surveillance Camera Strategy.
Dr Murray is a specialist in international human rights law, with a focus on conflict, counter-terrorism, and the application of modern technology. He is based in the School of Law at Essex.
Both are members of the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project, based at the Human Rights Centre at Essex and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
The full report can be found on the Human Rights, Big Technology and Technology project website.