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'Ineffective' facial recognition technology cannot substitute for police officers

2 min read

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott warns that unlike other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA, facial recognition technology has no regulation to govern its use.

The Government’s plans to equip the police with facial recognition technology is a cause for concern as it risks making suspects of the innocent and infringes on the public’s liberties.

The 2017 Notting Hill Carnival saw the Met police trial facial recognition technology.  Of the samples taken, 98% was ineffective and failed to differentiate between people with absolute certainty.  The FBI, who have also trialled and dismissed the use of this type of technology found that the software did not correctly identify people from ethnic minority communities, in particular women. 

These are troubling results which suggest that this surveillance tool is not at all effective. It could also lead to further discrimination of communities, where there are already manifestations of injustice.   

Technology advances generally play an important role in tackling crime and aiding the police. However, this does not appear be a useful technological addition. In addition, the importance of community relations for effective policing and stopping crime cannot be overstated. Discrimination is already manifest in the criminal justice system, expressed via major indicators such as the likelihood to be stopped, arrested, charged or sentenced.

Unlike other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA, facial recognition technology has not been debated in parliament, so there is currently no regulation to govern its use.  All policing should take place with prior approval from parliament.

There is also the question of public funds, which have already been cut by this Government. Millions of pounds could potentially be invested in a biometric programme that does not work. 

Since 2010, the Conservative Government have cut 21,000 police officers – ineffective technology cannot be a substitute for policing.  The Home Office needs to offer more police officers, not more cuts and ineffective technology.


Diane Abbott is the Shadow home secretary and Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington 

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