UK cops caught using 12 MILLION Brits' mugshots on pic database

'Reliability' of face-matching tech vexes legal eagle

Policeman claps in London street

The legality of uploading of millions of photographs to the Police National Database for automated facial recognition tech searches has been called into question by the UK's Biometrics Commissioner.

In his first annual report Alastair MacGregor QC said some 12 million custody photographs had been uploaded to the PND by the beginning of April 2014, with an automated searching mechanism having also gone live around the same time.

He said: "I have real doubts as to whether it can be wise at this stage – and without wider consultation and specific legal advice – to continue with the proposed operational use of the new system."

In the report MacGregor said concerns arose around the inclusion and processing on that database of images of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, an offence.

"My concern at this stage arises out of the fact that a searchable national database of custody photographs has, it seems, been put into operational use before any of those issues have been resolved."

He added: "The retention of such images has, in connection with custody photographs, already given rise to litigation in the English Courts in R (RMC and FJ) v MPS [2012] EWHC 1681 (Admin)." He also noted that problems may arise from the "apparent absence of any very rigorous testing of the reliability of the facial matching technology that is being employed."

He also said there were concerns as to whether it was "appropriate for the police" to put into use a searchable database of custody photographs "without further consultation".

The database is currently subject to none of the legal controls and protections as applied to the national DNA and fingerprint databases by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. ®


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