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UK police urged to double AI facial recognition searches by May 2024

Written by Mon 30 Oct 2023

UK police have been urged to double their use of AI facial recognition technology by May 2024.

In a letter to police chiefs, Policing Minister Chris Philp emphasised the need for law enforcement to embrace innovative technologies to prevent and solve crimes as criminal activity evolves.

Philp said it will be possible to exceed 200,000 searches of still images against the Police National Database in early summer if all forces in England and Wales were to work together.

“AI technology is a powerful tool for good, with huge opportunities to advance policing and cut crime. We are committed to making sure police have the systems they need to solve and prevent crimes, bring offenders to justice, and protect the public,” said Chris Philp, Crime and Policing Minister.

This technology captures live footage of crowds and compares it with a watch list of suspects currently wanted by police. 

When a match is discovered, an alert will be sent to nearby police officers. This is expected to have a deterrent effect and will allow police to quickly identify suspects within a crowd.

The Government stressed facial recognition is strictly governed by data protection, equality, and human rights laws. It can only be used by the police where it is necessary and proportionate.

For transparency, police will post notices where live facial recognition is used. If no match is found against a watch list, the data is automatically and instantly deleted. Individuals apprehended with facial recognition will still undergo a standard trial process if charged.

An independent study by the National Physical Laboratory called ‘Facial Recognition Technology in Law Enforcement’ examined the algorithm used by the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police. It found the technology was 100% accurate when used on still images and only produced 1 in 6,000 false alerts when used on live images. 

The police have not had any false alerts this year over 25 deployments. The study also indicated there were no notable performance disparities related to gender or ethnicity based on the settings employed by the police. 

“Facial recognition, including live facial recognition, has a sound legal basis that has been confirmed by the courts and has already enabled a large number of serious criminals to be caught, including for murder and sexual offences,” said Philp.

Live facial recognition technology was used successfully in the Arsenal versus Tottenham North London Derby. Police caught three wanted suspects, including one for sexual offences. Another wanted sex offender was also promptly identified at the King’s Coronation and returned to prison the same day.

AI Facial Recognition Used to Protect Children

The Government has invested in an AI tool to expedite the identification and grading of child sexual abuse material. 

This tool highlights images of interest to speed up the identification of offenders and safeguard children. The tool also improved the welfare of officers by reducing their exposure to indecent images.

The Government also supported industry innovation to tackle the threat from AI-generated child sexual abuse images, recognising that criminals were also exploiting the technology. 

Last month, the UK and US issued a joint statement in which they committed to working together to explore the development of new solutions to fight the spread of AI-generated child sexual abuse imagery.


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Written by Mon 30 Oct 2023

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