Halt to facial recognition technology trials urged as MPs question legality

Authorities should cease trials of facial recognition technology until a legal framework for them is established, MPs have said.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said the current lack of legislation calls into question the legal basis of the trials.

In a report on the Government’s approach to biometrics and forensics, the MPs referred to automatic facial recognition testing carried out by the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police.

It noted an evaluation of both trials by the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group raised questions about accuracy and bias.

Concerns were also raised that police custody images of individuals not convicted of any crime are not being deleted.

“It is unclear whether police forces are unaware of the requirement to review custody images every six years, or if they are simply ‘struggling to comply’,” the committee said.

MPs said police forces should give a higher priority in the allocation of their resources to ensure a comprehensive manual deletion process of custody images.

Branding the Government’s failure to implement the Forensic Science Regulator Bill “unacceptable”, the committee recommended the Home Office should apply for a legislative slot in the next parliamentary session.

The committee set out concerns about the long-term viability of the market for forensic science services and the significant risk this poses to the effective functioning of a criminal justice system.

Facial Recognition Technology
Facial recognition technology in use in Leicester Square, central London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Committee chairman Norman Lamb said: “The proper use, provision and regulation of biometrics and forensics are key if the criminal justice system is to function effectively.

“It is very concerning that the forensics market has, yet again, come perilously close to collapse in the year since we published our last report.

“The Government might claim to ‘strongly support’ the Forensic Science Regulator Bill but its actions do not meet its words. Now is the time for action.

“The legal basis for automatic facial recognition has been called into question, yet the Government has not accepted that there’s a problem. It must.

“A legislative framework on the use of these technologies is urgently needed. Current trials should be stopped and no further trials should take place until the right legal framework is in place.”

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