back to article Cops' use of biometric images 'gone far beyond custody purposes'

The use of 20 million facial images by British police "has said gone far beyond using them for custody purposes," according to the UK Biometric Commissioners’ annual report. Concerns have been previously raised by the commissioner over the retention of hundreds-of-thousands of innocent individuals' images. The Register was the …

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  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    ..19 million is an underestimate.

    The UK population is around 63 million. So at least a third of the UK population are on the Police National Computer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps

      there are 19 million images of one person?

      The point is that unless someone has checked and tagged all the images with a correct identity then the unique image count may be less than 19 million.

      Just Saying

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Perhaps

        On the other hand, being on a police database is rapidly becoming evidence of innocence

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I don't remember the Police arresting 19 million people in the UK.

      The questions that have to be asked (preferably in Parliament) is "Where did they get all this data from and what was the orginal stated scope of the purpose at the time of collection of the original source of that data ? ".

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Passports and driving licences ?

        A responsibility of the data protection registrar was to prevent arbitrary sharing of data, but the government scrapped that years ago.

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          I don't know if it actually happens and how often, but in Ben Aaronovitch's novels about London policeman PC Grant - special skill, he's a wizard - they routinely look up someone's driving licence photograph, on home visits they phone-photograph any personal pictures you leave on display... PC Grant describes this as "cheating" but only because he can do it and I can't. It may also help that he is effectively boss of the Magical Crimes Unit afar as computer access goes because the actual boss is Merlin's great-grandson and doesn't know how to work the things, either HOLMES or Watson.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        I don't remember the Police arresting 19 million people in the UK.

        This also caught my eye, given we are lead to believe the photos held are only of those people who were arrested, we do need to know how this number was arrived at. I assume it is the cumulative total number of arrests and thus custody photos taken over n years (seems the police have been arresting a little over 1M people a year in recent years: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/police-powers-and-procedures-england-and-wales-year-ending-31-march-2015/police-powers-and-procedures-england-and-wales-year-ending-31-march-2015 ). Hence some individuals may have several photos on the database.

  2. Justicesays

    Napolionic

    "automatic deletion on proof of innocence."

    Great, lets get right on proving that we are not criminals.

    How about a campaign for automatic deletion unless proof of a conviction is provided..?

    1. ForthIsNotDead Silver badge

      Re: Napolionic

      What has a conviction got to do with it?

      Let's say you get done for drink-driving. You serve a 12 month ban and pay a fine. Why should your picture remain for ever more on the police national database, just so that they can match it up with the millions of faces that are captured daily on the millions of CCTV cameras installed in this country (because *that* is the true end-goal.)?

      Why should that be?

      You are either free, or you are not.

      To be surveyed and tracked on the off-chance that you might do something wrong in the future, is to not be free.

      And that's where we're heading.

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: Napolionic

        "What has a conviction got to do with it?"

        Get convicted and you are a proven criminal. Thus your photo is retained on the criminal database.

        You may or may not think this is reasonable or that some form of time limit should be applied.

      2. ebyrob

        Re: Napolionic

        > You are either free, or you are not.

        You're not. Was that a question? Welcome to the surveillance age.

      3. FuzzyWuzzys Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Napolionic

        "To be surveyed and tracked on the off-chance that you might do something wrong in the future, is to not be free.

        And that's where we're heading."

        Too late, we're there already. ANPR, the highest number of CCTV cameras per capita anywhere in the world, we've a lot of to be proud of in the UK, NOT!

      4. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Napolionic

        "To be surveyed and tracked on the off-chance that you might do something wrong in the future, is to not be free."

        How about they dont "survey" or "track" you , but when you end up robbing a bank and the bank says "we got a picture" , The police dont have to say , yeah we deleted him off the database so cant help you there

      5. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Napolionic

        Why should your picture remain for ever more on the police national database, just so that they can match it up with the millions of faces that are captured daily on the millions of CCTV cameras installed in this country (because *that* is the true end-goal.)?

        Well, we have to fund the police somehow... So the long-term goal is to be in the location data collection business ahead of the private sector, then Facebook et al will pay the police for access to their data gathering network...

        Mind you thinking about what Facebook already know about you ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-39947942 ), perhaps the Police are already in discussions - why take the rap for doing something when people have already given Facebook permission to do that and more...

      6. Just Enough

        Re: Napolionic

        >You are either free, or you are not.

        You are free. However you still have a criminal record. On that record is your photo. Don't like them having that? Don't be a criminal.

        This is, of course, somewhat different from being surveyed and tracked..

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      7. This post has been deleted by its author

      8. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Napolionic

        Heading? We are there and far past that point.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Napolionic

      "How about a campaign for automatic deletion unless proof of a conviction is provided..?"

      At one time in the UK, anyone having their fingerprints taken in order to eliminate them from criminal enquiries (think fingerprints found at the scene of a crime), was assured that all fingerprints from innocent parties would be destroyed.

      The police would even ask participants if they wanted to be present to witness their destruction.

      What happened to that practice?

      1. EddieD

        Re: Napolionic

        "The police would even ask participants if they wanted to be present to witness their destruction.

        What happened to that practice?"

        They got computers.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The person ultimately responsible for policing is the Home Sec. This would have been the Home Sec at the time of the original commissioner's report. She and her successor should be held responsible for her continued failure to take suitable action.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      "person ultimately responsible for policing is the Home Sec"

      Being annoyingly pedantic the person responsible for most, but not all, policing is the Home Sec.

      CNC report to the Energy [...] Secretary, BTP to the Transport Secretary, MOD plod to the Defense Secretary and the Cambridge University Police and the various ports Police are private.

      No idea who SOCA report too, probably only God and then reluctantly.

      Individual constables being answerable only to the Queen is, unfortunately, a theoretical fantasy.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Being annoyingly pedantic the person responsible for most, but not all, policing is the Home Sec."

        And being even more annoyingly pedantic the Home Sec of that time is now the boss of all the others. So there!

  4. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    OTOH this may be a good thing ...

    The more records there are in the database, the greater the chance of a false positive. Facial recognition technology is so poor that the probability of several false positives is extremely high. Every false positive requires man-hours of work to chase up, and eventually will result in the police not bothering to use the technology at all because it wastes too much time.

    It would be interesting to do as was once done with the DNA database and see how many matches are flagged within the database itself (compare every image to all other images in the database). IIRC that resulted in several DNA matches of people who were very obviously different individuals (a fact quietly swept under the carpet when prosecution barristers trot out their "Millions to one" assurance that a DNA match is infallible).

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      OTOH..may be a good thing ...more records..in the database,--> greater..chance of a false positive

      You're quite behind the times aren't you?

      The Notting Hill Carnival "exercise" and subsequent false arrest have already done this.

      But the Met still think it's a result.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: --> greater..chance of a false positive

        That's why the police need additonal pieces of corroborating evidence

        You need to have been facial recognised AND be irish black muslim

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OTOH this may be a good thing ...

      'Every false positive requires man-hours of work to chase up, and eventually will result in the police not bothering to use the technology at all because it wastes too much time' I rear it will be the other way round where they rely simply on this alone with little other supporting evidence like they do with DNA: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19412819

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: OTOH this may be a good thing ...

        "Every false positive requires man-hours of work to chase up"

        What? how? surely you look at 2 pictures and, as a human, give a yes and a no . You could do 1000 in an hour.

        Not having a picture match hoewever , because you deleted the database results in 1 picture of an unknown person and the question "who the F is that ?" I put it to you that that will take a lot more man hours to figure out than if 2 pictures are the same person

        1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: OTOH this may be a good thing ...

          "Every false positive requires man-hours of work to chase up"

          ... but not by the coppers. The court can sort that out when the id'd perp comes to trial. Oh, sorry, no legal aid.

          Convicted, clear up rate improved. Trebles all round!

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Re: OTOH this may be a good thing ...

            Id like to think that the police dont use the equivalent of google's "I feel lucky" button (which no one has ever used ever) and actually look at the reults and select the correct / most likley one

    3. Harry Stottle

      Re: OTOH this may be a good thing ...

      Probably too late for you to notice this reply but if you do see it, I would dearly love to see evidence of that result (multiple collisions when entries compared to each other) . Not challenging your veracity. In fact I really hope it's true and there is some published evidence to support it. Would just love to be able to use that argument and wave it in certain faces...

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: OTOH this may be a good thing ...

        "

        Probably too late for you to notice this reply but if you do see it, I would dearly love to see evidence of that result (multiple collisions when entries compared to each other) .

        "

        http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/research/JLPP/upload/kaye.pdf

        https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527424-700-unreliable-evidence-time-to-open-up-dna-databases/

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    unless retention is necessary for a policing purpose

    there, problem sorted. ANYTHING and EVERYTHING can be deemed "necessary for a policing purpose" :(

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: unless retention is necessary for a policing purpose

      Exactly my thinking, that phrase leaves a bloody great door open for the ingress and egress of abuse.

      I still have a feeling that another bout of ID card foisting M/may be around the corner, the fuzz are just making an early start on collecting the photos so thay can cross check if you are still the same person you were before.

      They probably don't care or don't want to understand about false positives.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: unless retention is necessary for a policing purpose

        I guess you civil libertarian whack jobs are against all forms of law and order then?

        Ever thought why we have number plates on cars?

        do you know they are all stored on a database?

        whats you're thoughts on that?

        Every sinlge car that is - not just the cars that got arrested one time ...

        1. Chrissy

          Re: unless retention is necessary for a policing purpose

          "Ever thought why we have number plates on cars?"

          Yes..... revenue.

          Prevention of crime is a very, very distant secondary use.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: unless retention is necessary for a policing purpose

            Yes..... revenue.

            Ah! a "crime" creation system...

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    "Minister of State..Baroness Williams, a presumption..unconvicted individuals be deleted"

    I think most people would presume that's exactly what happens.

    Except it's not happening is it, Baroness Williams?

    Perhaps because the Home Office does not require it to be so?

    Why exactly is that?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So when do Apple have to delete all the iPhone X face images?

    1. AfternoonTea

      Face unlock with Android, Windows 10 in general, the image cache on any digital camera...

      Governments are a little late on the bandwagon.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        In all of those cases it's a local cache, not held by any corporation.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          >In all of those cases it's a local cache, not held by any corporation.

          But surely it will use Face Id to give me access to my iCloud account from any device with a camera?

          However, even if Apple did collect the Face Id data, they will claim the user agreed to their data being held by Apple and processed in any dubious offshore facility chosen by Apple - remember Bruce Sterling's "Islands in the Net".

  8. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    There Might Be Grounds?

    Everybody wants to wear prosthetic foreheads on their real heads...

    1. ITnoob

      Re: There Might Be Grounds?

      Well done! Excellent music reference.

  9. eldakka Silver badge
    Holmes

    However, concerns have previously been raised that the automatic deletion of images of unconvicted individuals would be too costly, due to the complexity of police IT systems.

    In which case all the databases should be deleted, and no new photos can be taken of anyone by the police, until new databases/processes are put into place that can automatically delete un-convicted individuals.

  10. Teiwaz Silver badge

    However, concerns have previously been raised that the automatic deletion of images of unconvicted individuals would be too costly, due to the complexity of police IT systems.

    Well that's clearly a bollocks excuse - They're quite prepared to demand maths be rewritten to match what they want when they ant breakable unbreakable encryption, or the entire countries http requests be saved and made searchable. but the Police IT is too complex to clear out the records of the unconvicted every so often....???

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      DELETE * FROM Customers

      WHERE convicted = 0

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      >Well that's clearly a bollocks excuse...

      Does your company's CRM system automatically clear out records of dead people, ex-customers etc.?

      Just asking as there are many enterprise computer systems written without consideration of record deletion. Not saying the Police are right or wrong, just stating a simple fact...

  11. BeakUpBottom

    Another slightly myopic article

    The guy who was arrested and de-arrested was down to a mix up over warrants, so the facial recognition presumably did its job correctly, at least that's how I read it from the linked article at the bottom.

    And it's all very well saying there were 35 false positives resulting 5 unnecessary stops, but there's no mention of any successful ones. If that's because there weren't any, then privacy issues aside this thing is a massive waste of resources. In any case, before getting all uppity, we'd need to compare this to "off-line" facial recognition, as in, officers simply recognising (or thinking they recognise) someone and then either detaining them or comparing them to a photograph and detaining them. It happens all the time, and it's not always the right person. Or sometimes it is and they have very convincing fake ID!

    Which isn't to say them holding 19 million images without adequately explaining in themselves isn't a concern, of course.

    1. teebie

      Re: Another slightly myopic article

      The 1 true positive is mentioned - its the guy who was arrested but shouldn't have been. According to the original blog post this was the only example the police gave of 'success'

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