The United Kingdom is set to ramp up its use of facial recognition technology in the fight against crime. Policing Minister Chris Philp has urged law enforcement agencies to double their use of retrospective facial recognition software over the next six months, aiming to exceed 200,000 searches of still images against the national police database by May. The minister is also promoting the wider use of live facial recognition (LFR) cameras in public spaces.
This move comes ahead of a global artificial intelligence safety summit scheduled for next week at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. The minister believes these advancements will help the police stay ahead of criminals and improve safety on the streets. Notably, Essex police have already begun trialling LFR on high streets in Chelmsford and Southend, resulting in three arrests following five positive alerts.
However, these developments have raised concerns among civil liberties campaigners and a cross-party group of MPs and peers. Big Brother Watch, a campaign group, has described the technology’s deployment as “dangerous authoritarian surveillance” and a “serious threat to civil liberties in the UK”. Furthermore, Philp’s plans to make UK passport photos searchable by police and integrate data from national databases have been labelled as an “Orwellian nightmare” by critics.
Despite these concerns, the Home Office defends the use of facial recognition technology. It argues that the technology is governed by data protection, equality, and human rights laws, and can only be used for necessary and proportionate policing purposes. The department also suggests that AI could free up police time and resources, allowing more officers to be deployed in communities.