Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I congratulate noble Peers on their fortitude and stamina in being here today. My partner and I have to get to Dorset for our 20th anniversary party—it would not be the same without us; our guests would probably miss us—and it is hard enough for me to be here. I also express my utmost gratitude to Silkie Carlo and the NGO Big Brother Watch, who have supported me and others in preparing for this important debate.
I have asked questions about this issue before but the answers were not satisfactory. I have therefore brought this debate before the House simply because I believe that the use of automated facial recognition technology represents a turning point in our civil liberties and human rights in the UK. It has barely been acknowledged anywhere that this could be a problem, and that is the reason for today’s debate.
If used appropriately, I do not doubt that it will provide many opportunities and ways to solve crimes, just as DNA research has done over the past few decades. However, we are currently faced with an unregulated and frankly terrifying mess, which uses data illegally and disproportionately interferes with our fundamental human rights. The current system—or, more correctly, the lack of a current system—means that there is no law, no oversight and no policy regulating police use of automated facial recognition. The limited trials that we know about have shown that it can be completely ineffective and potentially discriminatory.
The truth is that we are being watched all the time. People have had concerns about CCTV for some time but now it is beginning to recognise and identify us. The purpose of today’s debate is to understand how much we are being watched and automatically identified. I want to know how that is being governed—if it is being governed at all—and what legislative frameworks need to be put in place to properly regulate facial recognition.
In response to today’s debate, I call on the Government to do two things. First, they should place an immediate ban on police forces using automated facial recognition with surveillance cameras. The reasons for this will become clear during my speech. Secondly, I call on the Government to automatically remove the thousands of images of unconvicted individuals from the police’s custody image database. I will come back to this, but it is nearly six years since a court ruling said that the current system is illegal, so I am not sure how we are still using it.
Automated facial recognition uses technology to identify people in real time against pictures stored in a database. South Wales Police has been leading on its deployment and testing in the UK, funded by a £2 million grant from the Home Office. It has used it at a whole range of sports events, concerts and shopping centres. The Met police has also used facial recognition technology at a number of events, including Remembrance Sunday and the Notting Hill Carnival. Very little information has been released to the public on the accuracy and reliability of these tests, but the anecdotal evidence from police using it at Notting Hill Carnival was that they had 35 false positives, with only one positive match. Some five people were asked to prove their identity to the police, having been flagged up on the computer, all of whom turned out to be innocent. Big Brother Watch itself saw two people identified by the computer, the problem being that the computer had matched them with the police records of two men.
It is not looking like a great start. The Government cannot stand idly by while allowing this intrusion into individuals’ rights and identities. Big concerns about equality issues arise from this technology, particularly the risk of misidentifying people of colour, who are already disproportionately affected by policing tactics. If these concerns turn out to be correct, that will be another legal challenge in the pipeline.
If the public are ever to trust the use of this technology, it must be subject to the highest standards. We need the results of these tests to be made public and subject to rigorous scrutiny. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no legal or regulatory framework governing how the police use automatic facial recognition. I hope the Minister can give me a straight answer on that. At the moment, it seems the Government are letting police forces get on with it as an operational matter. This is clearly not just an operational matter. We have rules about road signs, speed cameras and gathering evidence, so why would we not have rules about how they use something as potentially intrusive as facial recognition? There is a regulatory gap here that must be filled.
I am very concerned that this technology is being used with a database full of illegal images of innocent people—I include myself in that number. It seems that the facial recognition technology is using the police national database, which contains tens of thousands of people who were never charged or convicted of an offence. It is six years since the High Court ruled that the policy of retaining the mugshots of innocent people was unlawful, but the police still do it and they still upload them to the police national database. The Government’s solution in 2017 was to allow individuals to write to the police, asking to be deleted. That is just not good enough. My pictures will be on the database, along with those of hundreds of other people who have been arrested at peaceful, perfectly lawful protests and never charged with an offence. So will people whose charges were dropped, were wrongly accused or were found not guilty by a jury of their peers. No one chooses to have their photograph taken by the police; it is extracted under coercion.
The burden should be on the police to delete those images of everyone who has not been found guilty of an offence. I ask the Minister whether the Home Office will take immediate steps to automatically delete those images of every single innocent person from the police national computer and prevent the database being used for facial recognition until it no longer contains innocent people. Will she also inform the House whether other sources of personal images, such as driving licence and passport databases, are available for use by the police and the security services?
I turn my attention to the security services and, in doing so, I extend my respect and gratitude to the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—a true hero of our times. Among his revelations was a GCHQ programme called Optic Nerve. It is alleged that millions of innocent people were spied on through their webcams to experiment with facial recognition. Parliament has since passed laws that make bulk surveillance and interception lawful, so it seems that we are moving towards more, rather than less, of this kind of mass surveillance. I would appreciate the Minister informing the House about the security services’ use of facial recognition technology, and ask her not to hide behind the cloaking words of “national security”. I am not asking for details; I am asking for process.
There are very real concerns about the use of mass surveillance and facial recognition technology; we are moving into the kind of territory that even George Orwell could not have imagined. Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden are being persecuted, when we should really be offering them political asylum for their heroism in exposing these nefarious, illegal schemes. We must look hard at this issue now; millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are already being spent on deploying such systems in south Wales, London and beyond. I do not want us to come back to this in a few years’ time only to be told, “The police have invested far too much money already for us to start making changes”.
It is easy to write this issue off by saying that it is not about privacy because everyone has their face out in public anyway, but that is to look at it from the wrong end. Our faces are now being used like fingerprints and DNA, but the difference is that our faces are so obvious and public that it makes the intrusion into our private lives all the greater. If the police were taking our fingerprints and DNA at sports events, carnivals and remembrance parades, it would cause great discomfort and concern. We should be no less discomfited and concerned about their automatically scanning and identifying our faces.
It occurred to me that we could perhaps use this technology ourselves, here in this House. We could have a facial recognition camera over the doors so that we would not have to be given a little tick by doorkeepers. Perhaps the Minister would like to consider that and see whether Members of the House like it.
I reiterate my call on the Government immediately to ban the use of automatic facial recognition and to clean the police national computer of all images of innocent people.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on securing this debate, although I wish we had more time to discuss this important subject. In addition to drawing your Lordships’ attention to my interests in police technology as set out in the register, I should mention that, from 1983 to 1996, I was responsible as a Home Office official for the provision of scientific and technological support to the police forces of England and Wales. My remit extended to biometric technologies such as automatic fingerprint identification systems and the forensic application of DNA technology.
It is worth noting in the context of today’s debate that the original and most important work on the application to the criminal justice system of both these technologies, fingerprints and DNA, was done in this country, more particularly in the laboratories of the Home Office, which, sadly, have since almost disappeared.
The role that both these technologies play in the criminal justice system is not simply to support the prosecution. Of course, they help the police to identify suspects and secure convictions, but they also prevent miscarriages of justice by identifying the innocent and thus eliminating them from further investigation—that was the certainly the case with the first use of DNA in Leicester, when someone who had confessed to a double murder was shown to be innocent and released. In the United States, DNA testing has saved the lives of hundreds of wrongly convicted people sitting on death row—this is thanks to the Innocence Project, started in 1972 by two young New York lawyers when they heard about the use of DNA technology in this country.
The same will be true, of course, for facial recognition technology. Although it is still at a very early stage of development as far as its use in the criminal justice system is concerned, I have no doubt that it will eventually be accepted by the police and the courts as a quick and reliable method for eliminating the innocent from suspicion as much as for identifying and convicting the guilty. We are still a long way from that position.
Unlike both fingerprint technology and DNA, there are no international or even national standards for the application of facial recognition technology to the criminal justice system. These standards for international co-operation, which took years to develop for both fingerprints and DNA, allow data relating to these technologies to be transmitted across national borders easily and without loss of integrity, so that someone arrested in California can be identified as wanted in Catalonia immediately—police would know immediately in California without any great effort. In addition to these technical standards, a whole set of other standards has been developed in order to enable the courts to feel confident about accepting an identification based on the use of fingerprints or DNA.
None of this infrastructure of standards is yet in place in relation to facial recognition. This does not mean that facial recognition technology is not yet useful in fighting crime and preventing terrorism today. It simply means that much more work needs to be done urgently to enable it to realise its full potential in the criminal justice system—for example, so that the courts accept facial recognition evidence as confirming identity. One of the tasks which has to be tackled urgently is to improve the quality of the main source of raw material for facial recognition; namely, the millions of private CCTV cameras all over this country. Too many of these cameras are poorly maintained, if maintained at all, badly sited and capture images at a very low resolution. This work should be taken forward with determination and speed. One way of doing this might be by building on the important work done by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, established under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
This is a matter for the Government. The simple message I would like my noble friend the Minister to take away from today’s debate is that, without national and eventually international standards and guidelines, the use of facial recognition technology will fail to realise its full potential in the criminal justice system. More significantly, without such standards, this technology could lead to miscarriages of justice, which in turn could lead to a loss of confidence in the technology and a loss of trust in the criminal justice system as a whole.
I apologise to the noble Lord but he will have seen in the Companion, at paragraph 4.32,
“it is considered discourteous for members not to be present for at least the opening speeches”.
The noble Lord was not present for the opening speech, so I wonder whether he should reconsider his decision to take part in the debate.
My Lords, as I was about to say, it is frankly not good enough for government Whips to arrange for a notice to be sent out by email at 12.51 pm to say that a debate is about to start. If there has been any discourtesy it has been from the government Whips to myself. If the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, are content, I will say just two or three words—I do not see the noble Lord rising to his feet.
First, as I say, I apologise to the noble Baroness for not having heard her speech, but having known her for quite a number of years I can guess the tone and nature of her remarks. I start from the premise that, by and large, facial recognition techniques are extremely valuable to the police and security services and, as a consequence, extremely valuable to the general population. I read of a case only this week in which somebody had been extradited from one side of the world to the other because the facial recognition system at a point of entry had picked up that this person was on a database and wanted for multiple murders in another country. I think that taking such people out of circulation and giving them the opportunity to be tried properly is good. I suspect that the noble Baroness—although, as I say, for reasons beyond my control I did not hear her speech—argued that these very powerful techniques should be more closely regulated. My simple point is that these techniques are extremely powerful but they are out of the bag, the train has left the station, or whatever metaphor you want to use to express it.
The Chinese website Alibaba has introduced a system whereby you can smile to pay. That is China, which is different, of course, and I am not aware that any similar system is being adopted in the UK or in other western countries, but that technique is there and it is only a matter of time before non-state actors start to use these techniques far more widely than is currently the case. I just wonder whether we want to have a regulatory system that ties the hands of the police and security forces behind their back under such circumstances when those techniques are available. Of course there should be a regulatory framework, but if there is, it should apply universally. I leave it to the Government to work out how they would enforce such a regulatory framework in other sectors.
My final point is specifically for the Minister and will perhaps be more in tune with something that the noble Baroness may have said. I would be interested in the Minister telling us what arrangements are being made for the storage of the data collected by the police and security agencies. Has she put in place a system whereby those databases are held within the United Kingdom on servers that are solely within the United Kingdom and by contractors that do not have written into the small print of their contracts arrangements that would enable them to copy that material elsewhere? Before the noble Lord, Lord Young, stands up, I would be grateful for her answer.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for initiating this debate.
“I also wanted a framework for governance and oversight, which I think is so important in this area. We need the public to trust that what we are doing is clearly legal … why we are using biometrics, and for what purpose”.
Those are not my words, but the Minister’s words to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on 6 February this year. However, for facial recognition technology collection use and storage, that is not what is in place and is what we have not got. There is no legislation, codified regulation or independent oversight and therefore public trust will be diminished.
The first issue is the framework for governance. In reality, there is none. There might be a few scattered papers, but there is no combined, clear, legal governance framework for the use of facial recognition technology by UK police forces. In fact, the Biometrics Commissioner said it is a postcode lottery with inconsistent use, retention, searching and taking of first facial imagery. What we have at the moment is a make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach or “do as you want as long as you don’t get caught”. That is what is happening and why this issue gained prominence with the public in 2012 when somebody took the Metropolitan Police to court. That is where this started in 2012, and the use of facial recognition technology is still unregulated and non-legislative, with no independent oversight.
I say to the Minister that we are on the road to another court case and, based on the judgment in 2012, my guess is that the Government will probably lose. The letter written by the Minister on 30 November to the chair of the Science and Technology Committee states that a decision to deploy facial recognition systems is a police operational matter. Of course it is, but it should be within a framework of legislation and regulation, the same as other operational requirements of the police. For example, Durham Constabulary is now using body-worn cameras to create a database of troublemakers. That is totally against the principles of data protection and the spirit of not using this type of technology as an intelligence-gathering tool. As there is no legal status, there are no proper regulations and no independent oversight and Durham Constabulary is getting away with it.
Pippa King, from Biometrics in Schools, made an extremely good FoI request in January this year. It is telling that out of 32 forces that responded, 27 could not provide any national or local guidance for the use of biometric facial recognition technology—27 out of 32. In addition, 32 out of 32 had not done a privacy impact assessment. Five stated that the Home Office has a PIA and they were using that. Has the Home Office done a PIA on the police use of facial recognition technology? If so, when did it share the assessment with police forces and where is it public? There is no body with oversight powers or independent checks—none whatever. Particularly in light of the fact, it is really important that many people on the database will have no idea that they are on it. They may have been to a train station, a pop concert or a memorial service. When will the Government look at giving power to an independent oversight body with the power of sanction to check that the police are using this technology correctly?
I end with the Minister’s own words. “These things are potential monsters”, she said at the same meeting, “which is why the Government need to be absolutely clear why they are collecting this data and for what purpose”. When will the Minister bring forward regulations and when will an independent oversight body be appointed?
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on this debate and draw attention to my interest, as declared in the register, as an adviser to Facewatch Ltd.
I think we would be making a mistake if we were to overemphasise the risks of this technology, given that it provides so many opportunities. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, I was an official in the Home Office in the 1990s, albeit at a much more junior level, and was responsible for VIP protection policy. In that context, I was continually bombarded by supposed facial recognition companies about the value of their products. Broadly speaking, they did not work. However, today the situation has changed: these systems are starting to work and the pace of development, particularly of data analytics and machine learning, means that they will get better quickly over the coming period. As a result, the sort of criticisms we have seen from Big Brother Watch, including that they do not work, may or may not be true today, but I am confident that they will not be true within the next few years.
By way of anecdote, I was going into a building the other day. There was a facial recognition system at the door, which immediately and accurately identified me, and was able to do it on the basis of a 12 year-old photograph taken from the internet. This is not just about police custody records: you can do it without any of that stuff, and a lot of people are doing so in the private sector. We are moving from promise to reality, and I suspect that within a few years, facial recognition systems—of course there are a lot of different technologies here—will probably be better at identifying individual human faces than we are ourselves, and we would be foolish in my view to deny ourselves the potential benefits of that technology.
I draw attention particularly to the opportunities in counterterrorism here, given my own background. Your Lordships only need to imagine the value of being able to confidently identify individuals checking in for airline flights, for instance, irrespective of what particular documentation they happen to be using on that day or what identity they might have been using. I can remember in my previous career watching individuals applying for asylum who found that their asylum application was turned down and therefore went on to their second or third application using different identities. We are in a position potentially to get over those sorts of problems using this technology.
The opportunities for identifying hostile reconnaissance activity are also very important. The attacks that we saw last year at London Bridge and Borough Market were very likely preceded by reconnaissance activity. One can envisage facial recognition technology being able to identify that in advance and enable pre-emptive action to be taken. Particularly on the terrorism side, we already know the faces of most of those who would like to attack us. We have them on record, so to be able to identify their hostile activities in advance is a very valuable intelligence tool. I am talking here about using it for intelligence purposes rather than evidential purposes, although it may be that we will come on to that once appropriate procedures and standards have been installed.
In regard to everyday crime, this also offers us real opportunities. Given the pressure on police budgets, we should welcome anything that makes policing more effective and efficient, rather than viewing it with deep suspicion. The same applies to potential victims: transport operators, shopkeepers and entertainment providers should be able to use this technology to protect themselves, their businesses and their clients. This will, in my view, add to the public good.
I look forward to clarity from the Home Office on its biometrics strategy, but I very much hope that it draws an appropriate balance, which encourages the use of facial recognition technology for the public good while providing a proportionate degree of regulation over it. We should not smother innovation, and it is important that any oversight or accountability mechanism for this does not become too bureaucratic or process heavy in such a way as to provide a disincentive to use the systems. It is also important that this should not become a bonanza for the lawyers.
I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for this debate. My guess is that most of us see some very useful ways in which this technology can be used, but many people are also concerned that it may have other uses as well, which they are less keen on. I speak as someone who has little knowledge of the actual technology, of modern-day policing or indeed of the complex legal issues involved, but I have taken the trouble to talk to a number of people over the last week to ask them of their awareness of this technology. I was very struck by the fact that hardly anybody I spoke to realised what was already going on. Some were horrified, some were puzzled and every one of them had questions and worries. As a minimum, we need to have the time—I hope that the Government will give much more time than a very limited short debate—to look at this important area, which touches on fundamental human freedoms, human rights and a whole range of issues about the sort of society we want and how we relate to one another.
In these sorts of debates, we often trade off fear. There is the trade-off fear of, “We’ve got terrorists coming, and therefore we’ve got to do something”, but if we take that line, everybody would be permanently tagged and we would all be linked up to computers and so on. None of us wants that. On the other side are people who have some real worries, which I think are justified by past evidence showing that sometimes when Governments and businesses collect data, they do not use it for the originally intended reasons. When I started talking with a number of people, those were the stories raised immediately: there was talk of Edward Snowden and of the collection of data by GCHQ and so on. This is the material that is kicking around. We have a duty to have a proper debate so that we start to understand and make conscious decisions on how we wish to collect and use information, so that we can plan for it rather than, as it appears at the moment, simply being overtaken by a lot of experiments.
We need this debate because as with, for example, many of those ethical issues that we debate in your Lordships’ House, we should not leave it just to the specialists and experts. This is a democratic issue about what it means to be a citizen—about what our rights but also our responsibilities are. How do we balance the state’s right to collect and use data? How do we balance the rights of businesses, when there are stories of plans being made so that, when we walk into shops, we will be identified so that we can be specifically targeted with certain sorts of products based on our customer profile? Do we want that sort of intrusion? We need to have that type of debate now.
I ask the Minister: when will Her Majesty’s Government create a proper space for us to have a more leisurely debate? Will the Government bring forward some sort of draft code, and indeed probably legislation, so we can begin to try to tease out how we want to use this technology? I totally concede the point, which has already been made, that in some senses we are already being overtaken by what is going on. When are we going to have an independent commissioner to look over this area, as we have commissioners for other areas, so that we can have the confidence that accountability is built into our national life?
My Lords, we are very lucky that we have people like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and organisations such as Big Brother Watch. In some ways, I start from the same premise of the requirement that fundamental human rights have within democracy. However, I quite quickly come to a different fork. I would illustrate that fork by suggesting that it depends on which country you live in. If, for example, you live in—to take the ultimate—North Korea, or—to take the intermediate—perhaps Russia or Venezuela, it is rather different to living in a European country, or at least most European countries, and many other countries in the world. For me, that is a practical and philosophical distinction. I describe it as the “two Ts”: T for tyranny and T for terrorism. I do not happen to believe that we in this country are faced with potential tyranny, let alone have tyranny already, but we all know that we are faced with terrorism and other forms of organised crime. That is what makes it essential that we use the implements that are available to protect us.
As I said at the start, I have sympathy for the general need to conserve our liberties. Indeed, I would even suggest that I have a minor credential in that: along with other noble friends in this House, I have been in the advance of trying to limit and check the use of powers of entry into premises without warrant, of which there have been far too many. We have a lot of our people on our side over this, and the committee that looks at statutory instruments now keeps a close eye on that.
However, we need to make the fullest use of all the techniques available not just to keep a check on terrorism and crime but for the proper organisation of the state. I shall like to use my remaining two minutes to say that what is really needed is that the state is aware of who its citizens are, which at the moment it is not. What is needed, therefore, is some form of proper identification. I do not believe in identity cards; still less do I believe in identity cards with biometrics, because biometrics on identity cards can be used fraudulently by terrorists or criminals who, with modern technology, can put their own biometrics on them and therefore appear to be any person that they represent themselves to be.
What we need are national identity numbers. Surely we can have no objection to this. We need our biometrics, whatever the best biometrics are, to be stored within the Government centrally and securely, not on bits of paper scattered around. They should be online and available to those people who should have them. In that way, we would have one number, a national identity number, instead of the current plethora of numbers, so many of which have been devalued by being misused, such as national insurance numbers, national health numbers, HMRC numbers and passport numbers. I was amazed that the noble Baroness was concerned about photographs on passports; of course they are available to the police. It is essential for our national security that those who need to know, as the jargon goes, have access.
I hope the Government will reconsider their repeated refusal to introduce national identity numbers and look at this system, which would make a huge difference to the administration of our public services, social services and National Health Service and guard better our national security.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for initiating this debate. Your Lordships may wonder why I am speaking in it. It is true that my interest in facial recognition is more linked to medicine in identification and progression of disease, but that is not why I am speaking today. I am speaking because of another interest, which is that my university, the University of Dundee, has a strong forensic science department, analysing all aspects of biometrics for both crime detection and human identification. I am also chairman of the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships’ House, which conducted a brief seminar on the use of forensic science in the detection of crime and elsewhere, and may well conduct a more detailed inquiry on the subject.
Facial recognition comes under the purview of the Forensic Science Regulator, which is not a statutory authority, but also the Biometrics Commissioner and the CCTV commissioner. Research in this area is therefore very police-needs driven, and a commercial element has therefore crept into software provision. Three areas of work have lately raised questions about facial recognition. The first relates to so-called super-recognisers. This concerns research out of Greenwich, and although there is strong evidence to suggest that some people are indeed better at recognising faces than others, there is some evidence that they are not the golden bullet that everyone hoped for.
A second issue concerns the ethics associated with retention of images when the person has either been released without charge or been found innocent of charges. Facial images are taken routinely in custody, and at present, as has been mentioned, there is no mandate for them to be deleted from the police national computer. This may come in due course, but the suggestion that someone may have to apply to have their images deleted cannot be satisfactory.
The third is linked, and is about using faces of known persons of interest when scanning crowds to find those individuals. As has been mentioned, this was employed at the Notting Hill Carnival and more recently at one of the 6 Nations rugby matches. The police state that widespread awareness notices are used in such places, that they check only against faces that they are looking for, and that no others are stored. This is an issue of questionable ethics and is currently under discussion, with the issue of covert versus overt collection of faces highly relevant.
We need to: define clear legal roles for collection of data; limit the type and amount of data stored and retained; limit storage to only one biometric in a single database, not all biometric data; define clear rules for the storing and sharing of data; impose strict security procedures to prevent improper access and data compromise; use mandatory notice procedures when technology such as I mentioned is used at Notting Hill and on other crowds—clear notices that the technology is being used—and define and standardise audit trail accountability and independent oversight of the use of data. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for raising this very important issue. As she says, there is no law, policy or oversight on facial recognition. As my noble friend Lord Scriven said, there is no framework for common governance across the UK in terms of the way in which the police use this technology.
I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Wasserman and Lord Evans of Weardale, that there are some very exciting and potentially extremely positive uses for this technology, but it has to be regulated. It cannot just be a free-for-all. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said, clearly there will be legitimate reasons for the use of facial recognition. In terms of “smile to pay”, I can pay using my phone where my phone recognises my face. Thankfully I do not have to smile because I am not usually smiling when I have to dole out money.
One of the worrying anecdotes we have heard this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, was the fact that when he went to a particular place, the camera recognised him from a picture on the internet. We are not just talking about innocent people being arrested who have never been charged, given a caution or been convicted, and that database being used potentially by the police to identify people who are at, say, a demonstration. There is also the potential for using internet images, passport or driving licence photographs. At the moment there is nothing in law or regulation to stop the police integrating those databases—if the Government allow the police to use them—to identify people.
People will say—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, will say it—that the police and security services have no interest in following everybody around. But the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, at the same time as being a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, was also on its database of extremists without good cause—I am sure. So she could be followed around by these cameras. We really have to ask questions about what is going on. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said that the train has left the station. It may have done, but it is time the Government got in control of this runaway train.
I have four brief points. There is an urgent need for regulation and oversight of the police use of facial recognition. It cannot be right that the policy on this use of technology is left to the police alone to decide for themselves. There is an urgent need to examine what databases are used in conjunction with facial recognition. I will not repeat all the arguments that we have heard from a number of noble Lords about the custody image database, and the fact that images of innocent people are being held potentially illegally on such databases. As I say, there is a potential for completely innocent people who have just applied for a passport or a driving licence, or even people who for some reason are in the public eye whose images are on the internet, being used in conjunction with police and facial recognition technology.
Something that has not been covered in as much detail is the fact that much machine learning, including automated facial recognition algorithms, tend to be discriminatory—in this case disproportionally misidentifying women and black faces as there are fewer black people and many fewer women on custody image databases from which the automated system learns.
Without regulation and oversight there is the potential for Nineteen Eighty-Four to become a reality, albeit 34 years later than originally envisaged. Will the Minister acknowledge that there are genuine and reasonable causes for concern and reassure the House that the Government are urgently looking into these issues?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for tabling this Question for Short Debate today. As other noble Lords have said, this is a very important matter and I hope we can come back to it in a much longer debate—maybe even as part of a government Bill as it is a very important issue. It is certainly time that we considered the issues of facial recognition technology today in relation to security and policing. As this is a short debate and I have no additional time for my contribution, I shall not respond in detail to the points other noble Lords have made, although I shall make some reference to them in my remarks.
The first duty of government is to keep its citizens safe, and the types of crimes being committed today and the role of computing—the internet, cybercrime, terrorism and so on—have changed dramatically. If you look back to the 1980s, or the 1960s or 1970s, completely different crimes were being committed; that is just a matter of fact. Technology itself has also provided the vehicle for these new forms of crimes to be committed—things that we would never have heard of when I was growing up. So it is important that we are able to use this technology to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
As many noble Lords have said, the challenge is for both government and Parliament to set the right balance between ensuring that the police and security services have the right tools, with the appropriate safeguards, to keep us safe and, on the other hand, to protect people’s personal liberty and privacy. That is the basic balance and the challenge for us all; it comes down to that. When she responds to the debate, I am sure the Minister will set out clearly what safeguards are in place at the moment, how the Government strike the right balance and, particularly, what arrangements they have in place for holding facial images. It has been suggested that there are no government arrangements in place. How will the Government ensure that they review that, and how will they do it as other technologies come into force and become more sophisticated? I am conscious that other technologies are potentially in the marketplace that can recognise you through your voice and other images. As these become more sophisticated and more widely used, how will we make sure that we strike that proportional balance and get that right? That is a very important issue for us all. I hope that the Minister can address those points, and particularly the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised. As I said, the issue is about keeping us all safe with the appropriate safeguards in place.
My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey highlighted how powerful these tools are. As he says, they are out of the bag—I think we all accept that now. These things are changing by the day. He then went on to make another important point about the issue of databases and how they are held. That is the important issue: who holds the databases? Are they held by the police or the security services, or are they held by third parties? What right do people have to use them? Can they be copied and used for other means? We need to make sure that those things are regulated and we get them right.
The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, made the important point about the need for national and international technological standards in facial recognition. He talked about DNA and fingerprinting, which again is very important. I agree that there are all these cameras around and their quality can vary dramatically, from very grainy images to very detailed images. So it is also important that we get the standards correct so that they can be used to protect us.
The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, highlighted the important role that these technologies play in the fight against terrorism, for the security services. I fully support the use of such technologies in that respect but, again, we should always ensure that they are used with the appropriate safeguards. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans set that point out in terms of the debate that we need. I talked at the start of my remarks about data: what it is, what we have and how we protect it. We need to come back to the issue at a later date, but I shall end my remarks there.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for that and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for bringing forward this debate on a very important issue, now and in the future. I start by stressing the importance the Government place on giving law enforcement the tools it needs to prevent terrorism and cut crime. However, it is also important to build public trust in our use of biometrics, including the use of facial images and facial recognition technology.
Biometric data is of critical importance in law enforcement, and various forms and uses of biometric data have an increasingly significant role in everyday life in the UK. However, the technology is of course changing rapidly. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about gait analysis technology, voice technology and other types of technology that are rapidly emerging. We are committed to producing a framework that ensures that organisations can innovate in their use and deployment of biometric technologies, such as facial recognition, and do so, crucially, in a transparent and ethical way. Noble Lords have talked about ethics in this as well. Maintaining public trust and confidence is absolutely key; achieving this involves a more open approach to the development and deployment of new technologies. We remain committed to ensuring that our use of biometrics, including those provided to law enforcement partners, is legal, ethical, transparent and robust.
In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, we will publish the Home Office biometrics strategy in June this year, as I outlined to the Science and Technology Committee. The strategy will address the use of facial recognition technology. There is ongoing work to implement last year’s custody images review, which provides a right to request deletion, and we are planning improvements to the governance of police use of custody images and facial recognition technology.
Automatic facial recognition, or AFR, is a rapidly evolving technology with huge potential, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and others powerfully illustrated. There have been some suggestions that there is no guidance on police use of AFR. The Home Office has published the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, which sets out the guiding principles for striking a balance between protecting the public and upholding civil liberties. The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Evans, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans all pointed this out, as did others. Police forces are obliged under the Protection of Freedoms Act—POFA—to have regard to this code. Similarly, the Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a code of practice, which explains how data protection legislation applies to the use of surveillance cameras and promotes best practice. However, to address the point of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, we believe that more can be done to improve governance around AFR and we are discussing options for doing this with the commissioners and the police. I am very pleased to see the really good practice already being followed in this area, such as the work being done by South Wales Police, which I will go into in a bit more detail in a few minutes. We are working to ensure that this is consistently applied across all areas by tightening up our oversight arrangements of AFR.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and others talked about the retention of custody images and whether that was illegal, following the 2012 High Court ruling. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also alluded to this. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gives police the power to take facial photographs of anyone detained following arrest. The regime governing the retention of custody images is set out in the Code of Practice on the Management of Police Information and statutory guidance contained in the College of Policing’s authorised professional practice. The Police Act 1996 requires chief officers to have regard to such codes of practice. In addition, the Information Commissioner and Surveillance Camera Commissioner promote their respective codes of practice.
Following the custody images review, people who are not subsequently convicted of an offence may request that their custody image be deleted from all police databases, with a presumption that it will be unless there is an exceptional policing reason for it to be retained, such as if an individual has known links to organised crime or terrorism. Assuming that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has links to neither—
Not yet—you heard it first at the Dispatch Box. I suggested some months ago that the noble Baroness should request that her image be removed. I am assuming that she has now done so and that, therefore, it is in the process of being removed. But the police should automatically review all the custody images of convicted people that they hold, in line with scheduled review periods set out in the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice to ensure that they retain only those that they need to keep.
On the point about illegality suggested by a couple of noble Lords, the court did not rule that there was an issue with applying facial recognition software to legitimately retained images. Following the CIR, we are clear that unconvicted people have the right to apply for the deletion of their image, with a presumption in favour of deletion. However, the police, as I said, have the right to retain an image in the cases that I outlined.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, talked about oversight. This is a very good question which was brought out by the Science and Technology Committee. Noble Lords also talked about the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group. In line with the recommendations of the triennial review of the Home Office science bodies, the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group’s remit has been extended to cover the ethical issues associated with all forensic identification techniques, including, but not limited to, facial recognition technology and fingerprinting. The Government are exploring the expansion of oversight of facial recognition systems. They are also seeking to establish an oversight board to enable greater co-ordination and transparency on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that we are consulting with stakeholders such as the NPCC, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, the Information Commissioner and the Biometrics Commissioner.
Noble Lords mentioned two specific instances: Notting Hill and the South Wales Police. I think that I have time to talk about both events. In 2016-17, when facial recognition technology was piloted at the Notting Hill Carnival, the Metropolitan Police published this on its website. This is in line with the fact that it is a pilot and that it is important that police let people know about it. The public were informed that the technology involved the use of overt—not covert—cameras, which scan the faces of those passing by and flag up potential matches against a specific database of custody images, and that the database had been populated with about 500 images of individuals who were forbidden to attend the carnival, as well as individuals wanted by police who it was believed might attend the carnival to commit offences. I must stress that this system does not involve a search against all images held on the police national database or the Met systems. The public were also advised that if a match was made by the system, officers would be alerted and would seek to speak to the individuals to verify their identity, making arrests if necessary. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who talked about mismatches with BME people, even between men and women. That goes back to the point that this is evolving technology and in no way would it be used at this point in time other than in a pilot situation.
South Wales Police took a very proactive approach to communications in its pilot. In addition to the more formal press briefing notices, it used social media in the form of YouTube and Facebook to explain the technology to the public and publicise its deployment—and, most importantly, it published the results. In its publicity, South Wales Police has been very aware of concerns about privacy and has stressed that it has built checks and balances into its methodology to make sure that the approach is justified and balanced. It consulted the Biometrics Commissioner, the Information Commissioner and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, all of whom are represented on the South Wales Police automatic facial recognition strategic partnership board, and gave them the opportunity to comment on the privacy impact assessment that was carried out in relation to the pilot. This resulted in a very positive press response to the pilot. The force also published a public round-up of six months of the pilot on its Facebook page.
I will go on now to the PIA, which links to that point. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked about the Government doing a privacy impact assessment. I can confirm that the Home Office biometrics programme carried out privacy impact assessments on all of its strategic projects to ensure that they maximised the benefits to the public while protecting the privacy of individuals and also addressed any potential impact of data aggregation.
The noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Kennedy, asked about arrangements for the storage of images. The Police National Database is based in the UK. Images are taken from custody systems run by each police force and then loaded on to the PND.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked whether passport and driving licence photos were available to police. They are not used by the police when deploying facial recognition technology. They may be used under specific conditions for other policing purposes.
I thank noble Lords once again for their participation in this debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.