Framework for Police Use of Facial Recognition Established by Policing Ethics Panel

An independent panel sets a framework for Police Use of Facial Recognition; Public largely supportive of proportionate use of the technology.

Following 10 trials by the London Metropolitan Police, the London Policing Ethics Panel has established a framework for Police use of facial recognition technology.

Five Conditions for the Use of Facial Recognition

Following an extensive review of the trials, the Panel yesterday published a comprehensive report which recommends that live facial recognition software should only be deployed by police if the following five conditions can be met:

  1. Its use offers more than marginal benefit to the public, sufficient to compensate for the potential distrust it may invoke.
  2. It does not generate unacceptable gender and racial bias into policing operations.
  3. Deployments are independently assessed to ensure it is necessary and proportionate for the purpose.
  4. Human operators are trained to understand the potential risk of injustice by inappropriate responses to alerts and are accountable for their actions.
  5. The police and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime jointly develop strict guidelines to balance the benefits of of the technology with its potential intrusiveness.

The report is balanced and suggests the panel is in favour of both:

  • the use of facial recognition.
  • the development of appropriate controls, guidelines and oversight governing such use.

The panel also suggest that police should continue the investigation of the use of facial recognition but say “...We argue therefore that MPS should proceed with caution… The panel states “…we have come to the view that there are important ethical issues to be addressed but these do not amount to reasons not to use LFR at all” but balance this with “...deployment of LFR must observe principles of necessity and proportionality. Neither of these principles could be satisfied by unrestricted use of LFR.

Public Largely in Favour of Proportionate Use of Facial Recognition Technology

The report also summarises the findings of a survey that they undertook. 1,092 Londoners responded to the survey between 23 May and 4 June 2018. They find from the survey that “A central objection is that surveillance has the potential to produce a chilling effect on democratic debate and protest, and more generally dissuade people from engaging in legitimate activities in public space ” but “…the counter-argument that surveillance can make public spaces safer, including for vulnerable groups“. Specifically, the survey highlights:

  • “Overall 57% of respondents thought that in general terms, police use of LFR was acceptable”
  • “ only two cases did support fall below 50%. So, …. (Public) support was almost overwhelming.
  • “…degrees of acceptance depended on the specific purposes and setting in which the technology might be used. “
  • “…there is a clear rank order, with support for use to identify terrorists and those wanted for serious violence significantly higher than support for use to identify those wanted for minor crime and nuisance behaviour.”
  • “…the idea of using LFR to apprehend criminals or people who are wanted by the police was well received, and the vast majority deemed it to be appropriate as long as ‘people of interest’ is clearly defined.”
  • “Participants were hopeful the technology would allow police to make identifications more quickly and accurately”
  • “Over one-third of those surveyed had concerns about LFR relating to privacy, both in relation to themselves and others, along with the ethics of police collecting data from people who have not committed a crime.”
  • “Most respondents stated use of LFR would not discourage them from going to public events … because they … had ‘nothing to hide’…” and “… could appreciate the potential safety benefits … such as a reduction in the threat of terrorist attacks.”

You can read the full report at :

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