#Privacy: Regulator “advocating a more cautious approach” to facial recognition technology

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The UK data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office is “not seeking to curtail its use completely,” Julian Hayes says, following the ICO’s official opinion on the Bridges case regarding the use of facial recognition technology (FRT).

“A gradualist path is likely to achieve longer term “buy-in” from legislators and the wider public, ensuring the crime-fighting benefits of the FRT are counter-balanced with due regard for concerns about its impact on privacy and the current limitations of the algorithms it employs,” added Hayes, who is Head of Data Protection & Privacy Group at BCL Solicitors.

This week the ICO said a code of practice should dictate when police use FRT, with Commissioner Elizabeth Denham voicing her “serious concerns” over the technology’s deployment.

Ms Denham’s comments stem from a legal challenge brought by Ed Bridges who was photographed while shopping in Cardiff two years ago, then again in 2018 when Mr Bridges was attending a peaceful protest against the arms trade.

The High Court ruled recently that South Wales Police had obtained the images lawfully, but civil rights group, Liberty maintain that to obtain Mr Bridges photo without his consent was akin to the unregulated taking of DNA or fingerprints without the individual’s consent. Liberty is currently campaigning for a complete ban on FRT.

Ms Denham said that using surveillance of this nature represents “a step change” in policing behaviours.

“Never before have we seen technologies with the potential for such widespread invasiveness.

“The results of that investigation raise serious concerns about the use of a technology that relies on huge amounts of sensitive personal information,” the Commissioner said in a blog post.

Julian Hayes commented:

“The Information Commissioner (ICO), who intervened in Mr Bridges’ case, yesterday released an official opinion following the court decision, reining-in initial enthusiasm that the judgment may have engendered amongst law enforcement agencies who saw the decision as a green light for widespread deployment of FRT as a crime-fighting panacea.

“The opinion does not relate to FRT use by the private sector, though a separate ICO report on this is anticipated.

“The views contained in the ICO’s publication echo concerns previously expressed by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee about the deployment of such ground-breaking technology in the absence of an adequate legal framework.

“A companion report also issued by the ICO on Thursday, warns that the absence of a binding code and national guidelines gives rise to inconsistent approaches between police forces, risking confusion, public concern and error.

“Early adopters of this game-changing technology may be disappointed at the ICO’s apparently lukewarm attitude. However, the regulator is not seeking to curtail its use completely; rather by foreshadowing statutory regulation, it is advocating a more cautious approach aimed at maintaining confidence in high-tech policing in coming years.

“In due course, such a gradualist path is likely to achieve longer term “buy-in” from legislators and the wider public, ensuring the crime-fighting benefits of the FRT are counter-balanced with due regard for concerns about its impact on privacy and the current limitations of the algorithms it employs.”


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