back to article Home Office is cruising for a lawsuit over police use of face recog tech

The UK Home Office has been warned that its delays in addressing police use of facial recognition technology on innocent people's custody photographs risks inviting a legal challenge. In his 122-page report (PDF) Blighty's Biometrics Commissioner stated he saw “no reason to believe that the situation [regarding the lack of …

  1. JohnMurray

    Government disobeys its own laws, and doesn't care.

    Big shock.

    Not.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Bah!

      Of course all the biometric scanned data along with the inevitable linked social security numbers, last known addresses, known associates, family members, fingerprint and DNA information will be strongly encrypted and stored in such a way as to make association of the data by mere physical proximity impossible.

      What? What did I say that was so funny?

      On another front: FBI says "We only want into one locked iPhone. When we say "one" we mean ten lots of "one". At first. But we will get those whachacallits, warrants, for all the others we want to look at. Otherwise the terrorists win."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: "Government disobeys its own laws, and doesn't care."

      And then wonders why citizens do the same.

      BTW has anyone ever seen a UK police ethics officer or does the blue code of silence make that an oxymoron?

    3. captain veg

      re: "Government disobeys its own laws, and doesn't care."

      In this case it's the Police acting unlawfully*. Send in the cops!

      -A.

      *Which is not necessarily the same as disobeying the "government's laws" (which are sometimes themselves found to be unlawful).

  2. James 51 Silver badge

    It will take politicians and police persons (and senior ones at that) going to jail before the 'fail first and get the law changed later' approach to be altered to something 'We up hold the law, it would help if we obeyed it too.'

  3. Doctor_Wibble
    Gimp

    Dame Edna specs and a Groucho moustache

    This is all you should need to defeat the system. Though to fool the posh ones in really secure areas you might need a Brian Blessed beard as well.

    And yes, I appreciate the irony* of telling everyone to all do the same thing and wear the same disguise to lift ourselves above being mere sheeple.

    .

    * yeah, whatever. especially if I got the usage right for a change.

    Gimpy mask icon because I am disguised... as myself!

    1. Keith Glass

      Re: Dame Edna specs and a Groucho moustache

      Actually, as I recall, most facial-recognition sensors can be jammed with a few IR LEDs. . .

      1. Doctor_Wibble
        Thumb Up

        Re: Dame Edna specs and a Groucho moustache

        > sensors can be jammed with a few IR LEDs

        Good point, but nick them off someone else's remotes - you could put several LEDs on the glasses and they won't look out of place either - nobody will notice them beyond a comment that the odd-looking extra bling you added isn't very blingy, but good effort and mind you don't scorch the gladdies with that cigar.

        1. TheOtherHobbes

          Re: Dame Edna specs and a Groucho moustache

          Except that gait and body shape recognition has been around for a while, and is getting quite good, I hear.

          1. Doctor_Wibble

            Re: Dame Edna specs and a Groucho moustache

            Gait is fixed with a pebble in your shoe (I have just been informed this also doubles as a contraceptive) and body shape is apparently a matter of michelinos and chicken fillets. Welcome to the brave new world of strange-looking people. Or possibly Camden.

  4. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Hottest selling item on the interwebs 2017 - Dr Who "Silurian" spiky-face prosthetics.

    Confuse a computer today.

  5. JaitcH
    WTF?

    National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC)(aka ACPO) is a lawless enterprise ...

    who don't give a fig about anyone or any law other than those they find acceptable.

    NPCC/ACPO is uncontrolled - even by Mad MAY of Hurst, Berkshire.The Home Office should trim NPCC/ACPO wings and make it comply with the law and political oversight.

  6. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    This is one thing I am not too worried about. Facial recognition software is simply not very good - and nor is it likely to improve much in the foreseeable future no matter what the vendors of such software say. It is just about usable to pre-screen whether the person stood at the desk is the same as the person in the passport photo when it is comparing just two samples taken with the optimal angle & lighting - and even there the success rate is pretty low and serves only as a rough "heads up" to the human, but finding matches between many 1000's of samples is a pipe-dream.

    IMO the more photos in the database the better - they will just serve to increase the number of false matches to such an unmanageable amount that the system is completely unusable (which in fact it already is).

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      A short sighted view there, given that the likes of Fartbook were quoting better than 98% success on 'Labeled faces in the wild' with their system. Google have also acquired a few facial recognition developers over the years too.

      If the fuzz have these 12million files and not deleting them, it's because they are waiting for the software to catch up. Hipster beards, mirrored RayBans and hoodies all round I think.

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        In an interview with the FT a year or two ago Eric claimed that Google can do real-time facial recognition but chose not to for ethical reasons.

        Read into that what you will but I suspect widely available facial recognition is likely to be with us soon.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          "In an interview with the FT a year or two ago Eric claimed that Google can do real-time facial recognition but chose not to for ethical reasons.

          Read into that what you will but I suspect widely available facial recognition is likely to be with us soon."

          That has to be bullshit. Google doesn't have ethics.

  7. Lusty

    You've had four years and taken no action at all. Format the database. Today. Or go to prison, yes the law does apply to you me information officer.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      At the very least, since retention of those image is unlawful, they have no right in law to keep those images even if their system can't handle "complex retention" policies. They are breaking the law and if that means people sitting in front of computers manually checking and deleting then so be it. Retaining them while they wait for a new system capable of auto-deleting of the relevant files should incur escalating penalties.

      And they are still *adding* to this farce in spite of a court judgement declaring it illegal.

      The mind boggles at how these people think!

      Maybe if I ever get a speeding ticket I'll refuse to pay on the basis that I need to set up a committee to look into the matter and eventually produce a report.

      1. Red Bren
        Big Brother

        Commit a small crime to stop a big crime?

        If someone was to hack in to a system in order to delete a database of illegally held information, would it be a crime? You can hardly expect the protection of the law if someone destroys something you shouldn't have, or you set a precedent for every convicted drug dealer to claim compensation for lost earnings when their merchandise is seized.

        1. Graham Marsden
          Unhappy

          @Red Bren - Re: Commit a small crime to stop a big crime?

          > If someone was to hack in to a system in order to delete a database of illegally held information, would it be a crime?

          Unfortunately, yes. It's what you do, not *why* you do it that tends to count.

          Of course that doesn't apply if your the Police/ Security Services/ Government/ whoever because it's one law for us and another one for them (or, at least, one that they can ignore...)

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "Biometrics Commissioner" ?

    That's an actual title?

    What do they do?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Biometrics Commissioner" ?

      "What do they do?"

      Commission biometrics. That will be £5.05 please. 5p for the answer, £5 for knowing it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Biometrics Commissioner" ?

        "What do they do?"

        Err...more chocolate teapotting methinks.

    2. Alexander J. Martin

      Re: "Biometrics Commissioner" ?

      Actual title is "Commissioner for the Retention and Use for Biometric Material".

      "The role of the Biometrics Commissioner was established by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA) and Alastair MacGregor was appointed as the first commissioner on 4 March 2013. His role is to provide independent oversight of the regime (which came into force on 31 October 2013), and to govern the retention and use of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints by the police in England and Wales."

      "In addition to various casework responsibilities in relation to DNA and fingerprints, he also has UK-wide oversight into their retention and use by the police on national security grounds."

      Source.

      1. JimBob01

        Re: "Biometrics Commissioner" ?

        “...to govern the retention and use of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints by the police in England and Wales.”

        So your face cannot be used as a biometric?

        Maybe someone should tell the passport office?

        And all those border inspectors?

  9. Bob Rocket
    Unhappy

    feature creepy

    When ANPR started it was quite rubbish, it was only fitted into specialised areas such as traffic cars but as the technology has matured you now see ANPR cameras on every A road in the UK.

    AFR (automatic facial recognition) is currently quite crappy, it is only fitted into specialised areas such as custody suites and body cameras.

    You won't see AFR cameras on every street corner, every cashpoint and every oyster terminal yet but soon you will.

    I can't remember voting for that but I will sure as hell be helping to pay for it.

    1. Tim Hines

      Re: feature creepy

      God, it's been a long time since what I think was the first ANPR test on the Watery Lane overbridge just north of junction 5 on the M1. I remember going to have a peer through the window of the Portakabin just down the hill at the Prime minicomputer running the system. Mid 70s if I recall correctly. New Scientist had an article at the time which raised some questions about the privacy implications.

      Edit: I see the article was 12th January 1984 by Steve Connor, so my memory was only a decade out!

      1. Alexander J. Martin
        Happy

        Re: feature creepy

        Was it a good article? I'd like a link if you have one.

        1. Bob Rocket

          Re: feature creepy - Steve Connor

          Apparently the article was in the New Scientist, it is referenced here but I don't think issues that old are online

          http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/blog/the_manufacture_of_surveillance_by_consent_part_2.htm

        2. Tim Hines

          Re: feature creepy

          As mentioned elsewhere there only seem to be references to the article (see also

          http://www.globalresearch.ca/intelligence-led-surveillance-and-britains-police-state-the-manufacture-of-mass-surveillance-by-consent/5354494). I think it's the same Steve Connor who is now Science Editor of the Independent. He also has done articles with Duncan Campbell.

      2. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: feature creepy

        "God, it's been a long time since what I think was the first ANPR test on the Watery Lane overbridge just north of junction 5 on the M1. I remember going to have a peer through the window of the Portakabin just down the hill at the Prime minicomputer running the system. Mid 70s if I recall correctly. New Scientist had an article at the time which raised some questions about the privacy implications.

        Edit: I see the article was 12th January 1984 by Steve Connor, so my memory was only a decade out!"

        Sorry, are you saying that the real start of the surveillance society, logging where everybody goes, was in 1984? That's fitting.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bloody hate this pussy footing.

    I don't know about you, but I hate this pussyfooting around their continued non-compliance.

    They had their warning, repeatedly, they were told to comply and nothing is happening. The time for vague bullshit and more and more delays has well passed, and I think this should be dealt with properly. The people who are actually responsible should be at least be booted out of their comfy job-with-pension-and-expenses and maybe be forced to do some hard time. You know, the events that would happen to your average citizen if they they tried this one.

    Do that a few times, and I predict that government mechanisms would suddenly start working a lot quicker. Key is, of course, that you stop people dodging responsibility, they have gotten FAR too good at that. A couple of object lessons might return some order to this lot.

    Grr. Now where's my beer?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I bloody hate this pussy footing.

      Maybe the Judge(s) of the court who declared this illegal and referenced in the bootnote should issue a warrant for the relevant Chief Police Officer and charge him/her with contempt of court.

  11. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Maybe they've been tipped the wink...

    ...and the new Snoopers Charter will legalise this data collection and backdate it to retroactively make it all "safe". That'd not surprise me in the least.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Maybe they've been tipped the wink...

      Ends justifies the means.

      Forget laws. Except for the peons.

  12. NP-HARD
    Devil

    How to train your neural net

    "... “hundreds of thousands” of facial images held in the PND belonged to “individuals who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, an offence.”..."

    Supply it with a huge training set. More data doesn't obsfuscate or encumber the plodbot, but makes it more reliable. If I were developer of such software, I would be demanding data - more and faster.

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