Stop facial recognition trials now, warns UK committee

The UK government should suspend trials of automatic facial systems until it can meet regulators’ concerns about the technology, according to a report released Friday.

The report, issued by the House Of Commons Science and Technology , examines the work of the UK’s Biometrics Commissioner and Forensic Science Regulator. It warned that the government does not yet have a well-thought-out strategy for biometrics or a proper legal framework for trialing automatic facial recognition systems. It said:

We call on the Government to issue a moratorium on the current use of facial recognition technology and no further trials should take place until a legislative framework has been introduced and guidance on trial protocols, and an oversight and evaluation system, has been established.

In June 2018, the UK government published a biometrics strategy. However, the Committee took a dim view of it. It warned that it is little more than a list of some things that the Home Office had been doing, rather than a robust roadmap for biometrics ethics and governance. The report said:

It is not really a strategy at all, lacking a coherent, forward looking vision and failing to address the legislative vacuum around new biometrics.

No legislation for new biometrics

While there is a legal framework for managing fingerprints and DNA under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, it doesn’t cover facial or voice recognition, the report added. There is no legislation covering the use and oversight of new biometrics.

The UK’s Forensic Science Regulator is responsible for ensuring appropriate standards in forensic science (which would include facial recognition systems) in the UK. It has no statutory powers, meaning that it can make recommendations but not penalise government bodies. The Committee has been asking for these powers since 2011.

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The Regulator is also responsible for ensuring effective collaboration with Scotland and Northern Ireland for UK-wide quality standards. When it comes to new biometrics such as facial recognition, the UK has lagged behind Scotland, which has already proposed legislation around its use, the report said.

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