Police Scotland has increased its use of retrospective facial recognition technology over the past five years.
This surge has raised alarms about potential wrongful identifications of suspects, prompting experts and activists to call for reassessment and stronger safeguards.
Facial Recognition Utilisation Surge
The use of retrospective facial recognition by Police Scotland has tripled over the last five years, according to data obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
In the past five years, Police Scotland’s employment of facial recognition technology increase from under 1300 searches in 2018 to nearly 4000 in 2022.
This technology utilises algorithms to identify individuals captured on camera at crime scenes by comparing their faces with millions of custody images stored on a UK-wide police database.
Concerns Evolving the Escalation
Police Scotland described facial recognition technology:
“Extremely useful tool in helping officers to identify those who commit crimes”
Despite Police Scotland’s belief in use of facial recognition for identifying criminals, concerns have been raised by campaigners and politicians regarding its potential for producing “false positives” and exhibiting biases, especially against women and people of color.
Experts advising the Scottish Government on facial recognition have called for a suspension of Police Scotland’s use of the technology, demanding substantial evidence demonstrating its appropriateness, proportionality, and effectiveness.
Concerns are fueled by the inclusion of images of individuals later found innocent or cleared at trial in the police database.
The deployment of facial recognition technology also raises legal and privacy concerns.
Bella Sankey, Liberty’s policy director, said:
“Police hold thousands of pictures of activists and bystanders who were never even taken into custody and may not know their photo was taken. That was ruled unlawful.”
The continuous presence of innocent people’s images in police databases, despite earlier regulations to delete such data, exacerbates concerns about privacy and data protection.
Ban on Facial Recognition Technology
Patrick Corrigan, head of nations and regions at Amnesty International UK, advocates for an outright ban on facial recognition technology, citing its potential to exacerbate systemic racism within policing.
“That there seems to be an increase in use of the Police National Database (PND) by Police Scotland is in no way coherent with its commitment to operate as a rights-based organisation,”
In a society where technology and surveillance continue to evolve, the debate surrounding facial recognition technology’s deployment and its implications for privacy and justice remains central to the discourse on policing and civil liberties.
As concerns persist, the need for robust regulation and oversight is crucial to balance effective law enforcement with individual rights and privacy.