Police trials of facial recognition backed by home secretary

Sajid Javid supports use of technology despite concern from human rights groups

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has thrown his support behind police trials of controversial facial recognition technology.

The Neoface system used by the Metropolitan police and South Wales police is supplied by the Japanese company NEC, which markets the same technology to retailers and casinos to spot regular customers, and to stadium and concert operators to scan crowds for “potential troublemakers”.

The technology and its use by police has met considerable criticism. Its use by South Wales police is under judicial review, while the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has criticised “a lack of transparency about its use”. Tony Porter, the surveillance camera commissioner, last year intervened to stop Greater Manchester police using facial recognition at the Trafford shopping centre.

This month, University of Essex researchers who were given access to six live trials by the Met found matches were correct in only a fifth of cases and the system was likely to break human rights laws.

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid, the home secretary. Photograph: David Mirzoeff/PA

The BBC reported that Javid supported the trials at the launch of computer technology aimed at helping police fight online child abuse.

“I back the police in looking at technology and trialling it and … different types of facial recognition technology is being trialled especially by the Met at the moment and I think it’s right they look at that,” he said.

The civil rights campaign group Liberty has previously called facial recognition “a dangerously intrusive and discriminatory technology that destroys our privacy rights and forces people to change their behaviour”.

The Home Office said it believed there was an adequate legal framework for its use and it supported police trials, but added it was reviewing ways to simplify and extend governance and oversight of biometrics.

Javid said police would be given “game-changing” technological tools to bolster the fight against online child abuse.

According to the Home Office, the three new tools will help speed up investigations and limit the number of indecent images officers have to view.

The technology, which cost £1.76m, aims to improve the capability of the Child Abuse Image Database, which holds millions of images.


Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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