Government urges police to increase use of facial recognition software

Crime and Policing Minister, Chris Philps, has urged the police to use artificial intelligence (AI) technology more for crime-fighting by May 2024. 

In a letter to police chiefs, Philps said the number of searches using facial recognition technology to track offenders should double – reaching more than 200,000 searches – by May 2024 in England and Wales.

The increased use of AI-based facial recognition software, according to the letter, is to support in identifying and catching suspects wanted for serious crimes, or who pose a risk to the public, as well as for finding missing people.

The letter also encouraged the use of live facial recognition cameras to be used more widely, helping to identify suspects in a crowd, by comparing faces to a watch list of wanted suspects and alerting officers when there is a potential match.

There has been opposition to the announcement, with former Brexit secretary David Davis, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, and former Labour shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti among 65 members of the Commons and Lords who put their names to a joint statement in opposition of Philps’ plans.

The joint statement was also supported by 31 groups including Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Amnesty International and the Race Equality Foundation.

On social media platform, X (formerly Twitter), Davis called live facial recognition “a suspicionless mass surveillance tool that has no place in Britain”.

“Staying one step ahead”

The department of Crime, Policing and Fire says police will put up notices in areas where live facial recognition will be in use, adding that if the system does not make a match to a member of the public, their data will be deleted automatically.

Philps said: “AI technology is a powerful tool for good, with huge opportunities to advance policing and cut crime. We are committed to making sure police have the systems they need to solve and prevent crimes, bring offenders to justice, and protect the public.

“Facial recognition, including live facial recognition, has a sound legal basis that has been confirmed by the courts and has already enabled a large number of serious criminals to be caught, including for murder and sexual offences.

“This is not about acquiring new kit and deploying new tech for the sake of it; it is about staying one step ahead of criminals; delivering smarter, more effective policing and, ultimately, making our streets safer.”

The news comes as the UK is hosting its inaugural AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park at the beginning of November. 


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