Minister urges police forces to increase use of facial recognition technology

In a letter to Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners, the Policing Minister said he wants to see police forces double their use of retrospective facial recognition and to expand the use of live facial recognition as it has ‘great potential to pick up wanted persons who would otherwise go undetected.’

The Minister, Rt Hon Chris Philp MP said that every force already uses retrospective facial recognition (RFR) but with advances in the underlying algorithms ‘even blurred, or partially obscured images can now be successfully matched against custody images, leading to arrests.’ He encouraged forces to search the whole Police National Database (PND) image set rather than just local force ones to ‘maximise the chance of a match,’ as well as routine use of RFR across the entire range of crimes.

Live facial recognition (LFR) is used to deter and detect crime in public settings with large crowds to rapidly identify people on a watchlist using special purpose cameras. College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice is in place. The Minister said he is ‘very supportive’ of LFR and that there is a ‘sound legal basis’ for it.

Referring to concerns about bias in the technology behind LFR, the Minister said that the National Physical Laboratory ‘has provided the necessary assurance about accuracy and the absence of bias’ in the approaches being taken by the two forces who are currently using LFR – South Wales and the Met.

Working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Minister said that using facial recognition as a crime fighting tool is a high priority, adding, ‘The UK is leading the way with our approach which is open, transparent, and includes key safeguards.’

The Home Office has set out more detail about how retrospective FR works in a new fact sheet.

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