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Police need huge IT upgrade for legal facial recognition

Written by on May 30, 2019

Image:Significant investment is needed to ensure the police use of facial recognition is legal

But the force’s back-end IT systems are not capable of letting officers check whether the images on the database are being held legally.

Johanna Morley, the Met’s senior technologist, told Sky News that this governance of the watch-list was a matter of concern.

This comparison database is currently created manually and in accordance with a High Court ruling in 2012 which requires the police to only hold the images of people who are legitimate subjects of interest.

However, in two trials run by the Met the comparison database accidentally held the images of people who did not meet the criteria due to having been already dealt with.

Speaking to a policing ethics panel event, Ms Morley said this was due to the Met’s “back-end technology systems” which are incapable of automatically synchronising with the facial recognition systems.

The High Court ruling in 2012 told the police that it was unlawful for them to hold innocent people’s facial images on their systems.

A government response defended police when it came to the poor quality of their IT systems which made it impossible to automatically delete those images, however it did not change the ruling.

Image:IT systems for the Metropolitan Police would need to be updated

Ms Morley said: “For a trial we have to be proportionate about the amount of investment we put into back-end systems in order to test front-end technology.”

The investment required to overhaul the Met’s back-end systems could cost millions of pounds, but this investment is essential to address the lack of synchronisation.

Ms Morley explained: “There is always a time-gap between generating the watch-list and then going out on the street and deploying it.

“If a decision was made to go forward [with live facial recognition], those are the types of things we’d put investment into, bringing those systems up to speed,” she added.

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