MSPs to question police use of facial recognition technology


Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing has launched a new inquiry into the use of facial recognition technology.

MSPs are keen to find out more about police use and future plans in relation to this fast-evolving tool, which is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Facial recognition technology can either be ‘live’ or ‘retrospective’. It is understood that Police Scotland currently use retrospective facial recognition technology from recorded CCTV, which is matched against faces in the Police National Database. It is not currently clear whether other policing organisations, such as the British Transport Police or the National Crime Agency use either form of facial recognition in Scotland.

Advances in technology mean that in addition to CCTV, images which could be used for facial recognition can come from body-worn cameras and potentially mobile phones.

Speaking as the call for views was launched, Sub-Committee Convener, John Finnie MSP, said:

“Facial recognition could be a useful tool for police in fighting crime and keeping communities safe.

“However, it should not be forgotten that this technology is invasive to citizens’ privacy. The human rights and legal implications of using facial recognition need to be understood.

“The Sub-Committee wants to be reassured that police services are striking the right balance when using this technology. We have a number of concerns we look forward to exploring further in the months ahead.”


The call for views can be found here.

• The Justice Committee is currently considering the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill, which is looking at introducing a Biometrics Commissioner for Scotland. Police Scotland has indicated that they are awaiting this Commissioner before trialling live facial recognition.

• Around 13 million faces are on the UK Police National Database (PND). This currently also contains images of people subsequently cleared of any offence. A 2012 court decision ruled that holding such images was unlawful. The "unlawful" images are still held on the PND, with the government still investigating ways to purge them from the system.

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