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Lords Committee questions legality of Live Facial Recognition Technology

27 January 2024

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee today publishes a letter to the Home Secretary, Rt. Hon. James Cleverly MP, after conducting a short investigation into the use of Live Facial Recognition (LFR) Technology by police forces in England and Wales. This work follows up on some themes in the Committee’s report, “Technology Rules? The advent of new technologies in the justice system” (published on 30 March 2022).

The letter

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee conducted a short investigation into the deployment by police forces of Live Facial Recognition Technology—the technology that compares a live camera video feed of faces against a predetermined watchlist of people to find a possible match. The Committee writes that the deployment of the technology lacks a clear legal foundation. There are no rigorous standards or systems of regulation in respect of the use of LFR, and there is no consistency in approaches to training in its use by police forces.

The Committee calls for:

  • A clear foundation in law for the use of LFR technology
  • A legislative framework for the regulation of the deployment of LFR technology
  • Clear structures and regulation in relation to the use of LFR as well as independent scrutiny
  • Future-proofing of regulations to meet for rapid advancement in technology
  • Consistency in training and in the use of LFR across England and Wales. 

The Committee writes that police should make it very apparent to the public when and where LFR technology is being deployed. Pre-deployment communication must be standardised through a national enforceable procedure.

The Committee accepts that LFR may be a valuable tool for police forces in apprehending criminals, but it is deeply concerned that its use is being expanded without proper scrutiny and accountability.

The Committee calls on the Government to address these points. It is essential to ensure that the public trusts the police in its operations and supports the use of the technology.

Chair's comments

Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Does the use of LFR have a basis in law? Is it actually legal?”

“It is essential that the public trusts LFR and how it is used. It is fundamental that the legal basis is clear. Current regulation is not sufficient. Oversight is inadequate.”

“Technology is developing so fast that regulation must be future-proofed. Police forces may soon be able to link LFR cameras to trawl large populations, such as Greater London, and not just specific localities.”

We are an outlier as a democratic state in the speed at which we are applying this technology. We question why there is such disparity between the approach in England and Wales and other democratic states in the regulation of LFR.”

Further information

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