Police use of biometric technology – Julian Hayes and Andrew Watson write for Police Professional

Police use of biometric technology – Julian Hayes and Andrew Watson write for Police Professional

BCL partner Julian Hayes and legal assistant Andrew Watson’s article examining the critical balance between human rights, privacy and the use of biometric technology by the police has been published in Police Professional.

Here’s an extract from the article:

” “It is vital the Government works to empower police to use technology to keep the public safe while maintaining their trust.”

With those words, the Home Secretary announced the recent appointment of Professor Fraser Sampson as England and Wales’ first Biometrics Commissioner and Surveillance Camera Commissioner. Combining two previously distinct offices, the new Commissioner will be responsible for promoting the appropriate use of biometric data as well as the overt use of surveillance camera systems by relevant authorities.

It is fair to say the professor’s tenure got off to a contentious start when, just two months into the job, he reportedly suggested that discretion rather than law should govern police use of facial recognition technology (FRT). While FRT arouses much controversy, it is just one form of a fast-growing range of technology available to law enforcement that harnesses the power of algorithms or artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve what, until recently, existed only in science fiction.

The Commissioner no doubt spoke for many people when he asked how, if certain technology was available, a policing body could responsibly not use it to prevent and detect crime and to keep people safe. However, such technological advances have developed without a dedicated legal and regulatory framework in place, raising serious concerns over privacy, fairness and human rights. Courts and legislatures are now beginning to grapple with the problem.

Algorithmic policing

Algorithmic policing technology falls into two broad categories: surveillance technology and predictive technology.

Surveillance technology automates the collection and analysis of data. Examples include facial recognition, social network analysis revealing connections between suspects, and more prosaically automated numberplate recognition systems.

Predictive technology uses data to forecast criminal activity before it occurs, allowing the police to intervene to apprehend suspects or prevent them from offending. Falling into this category are predictive mapping programmes such as PredPol, which identify crime ‘hot spots’, and individual risk-assessment programmes that seek to identify whether someone will re-offend. An example of this latter type is the Harm Assessment Risk Tool developed by Durham Constabulary to predict the likelihood that an individual will re-offend. Also falling into the category of predictive technology is emotion recognition, which analyses facial expressions to try to decode an individual’s mood and intentions, and is to be trialled by Lincolnshire Police.”

This article was originally published by Police Professional on 25/05/21. You can read the full version on their website.

Julian Hayes advises companies and individuals in the rapidly developing field of data protection, especially in the context of data breaches and law enforcement investigations, where necessary litigating to ensure that the actions of state authorities are properly constrained. A partner at BCL for three years, he has vast experience of all types of criminal inquiries, including the unlawful obtaining of data and computer misuse offences. He is well-known and highly regarded commentator on cybersecurity and privacy issues. He advises telecommunications operators on their obligations under UK investigatory powers legislation and provides practical guidance on how to handle demands placed upon them, including in establishing systems that work to ensure legal compliance and protection for the operator.

Andrew Watson is a legal assistant and has been involved in a number of matters concerning HMRC, Trading Standards and the SFO and has a particular interest in relation to cash seizure and forfeiture under the relevant provisions of POCA 2002 and the Criminal Finances Act 2017. Recent data protection work has included advising on the obligations placed on a data controller by the DPA 2018/GDPR when considering whether to comply with a non-mandatory ‘Request for Information’.

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