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AI technology urgently needs proper regulation beyond a voluntary ethics code

3 min read

We already have the most comprehensive CCTV coverage in the Western world, add artificial intelligence driven live facial recognition and you have all the makings of a surveillance state, writes Lord Clement-Jones.

In recent months live facial recognition technology has been much in the news.

Despite having been described by as ‘potentially Orwellian’ by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and ‘deeply concerning’ by the Information Commissioner the Met have now announced its widespread adoption.

The Ada Lovelace Institute in Beyond Face Value reported similar concerns.

The Information Commissioner has been consistent in her call for a statutory code of practice to be in place before facial-recognition technology can be safely deployed by police forces saying; “Never before have we seen technologies with the potential for such widespread invasiveness...The absence of a statutory code that speaks to the challenges posed by LFR will increase the likelihood of legal failures and undermine public confidence.”

I and my fellow Liberal Democrats share these concerns. We already have the most comprehensive CCTV coverage in the western world. Add to that artificial intelligence driven live facial recognition and you have all the makings of a surveillance state.

The University of Essex in its independent report last year demonstrated the inaccuracy of the technology being used by the Met. Analysis of six trials found that the technology mistakenly identified innocent people as “wanted” in 80 per cent of cases.

Even the Home Office’s own Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group has questioned the accuracy of live facial recognition technology and noted its potential for biased outputs and biased decision-making on the part of system operators.

As a result, the Science and Technology Select Committee last year recommended an immediate moratorium on its use until concerns over the technology’s effectiveness and potential have been fully resolved.

To make matters worse in a recent parliamentary question, Baroness Williams of Trafford outlined the types of people who can be included on a watch list through this technology. They are persons wanted on warrants, individuals who are unlawfully at large, persons suspected of having committed crimes, persons who might be in need of protection, individuals whose presence at an event causes particular concern, and vulnerable persons.

It is chilling that not only is this technology in place and being used but that the government has arbitrarily already decided who it is legitimate to use the technology on.

A moratorium is therefore a vital first step. We need to put a stop to this unregulated invasion of our privacy and have a careful review.

I have now tabled a private members bill which first legislates for a moratorium and then institutes a review of the use of the technology which would have as minimum terms of reference: the equality and human rights implications of the use of automated facial recognition technology; the data protection implications of the use of that technology; the quality and accuracy of the technology; the adequacy of the regulatory framework governing how data is or would be processed and shared between entities involved in the use of facial recognition; and recommendations for addressing issues identified by the review.

At that point we can debate if or when it’s use is appropriate and whether and how to regulate its use. This might be absolute restriction or permitting certain uses where regulation to ensure privacy safeguards are in place, together with full impact assessment and audit.

The Lords AI Select Committee I chaired recommended the adoption of a set of ethics around the development of AI applications believing that in the main voluntary compliance was the way forward. But certain technologies need proper regulation now, beyond a voluntary ethics code. This is one such example and it is urgent.


Lord Clement-Jones is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords and Liberal Democract Lords Spokesperson for Digital. 

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Clement-Jones - The long-awaited AI Governance White Paper falls far short of what is needed


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