Adam Price calls for prohibition of the use of ‘racially biased’ police facial recognition technology on Senedd steps
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has called for the prohibition of police facial recognition technology on the steps on the Senedd, saying that it has an “inbuilt racial bias”.
New guidance published by the College of Policing said that the technology can now be used in police operations to find “people who are missing and potentially at a risk of harm” as well as potential criminals or terrorists.
Civil liberty groups have branded the new guidance as an “atrocious policy and a hammer blow for privacy and liberty”.
South Wales Police are among those to make use of the technology, after being forced to halt its use by the Court of Appeal “because of concerns over its inbuilt racial bias,” Adam Price said.
Policing is not yet devolved to Wales, but Adam Price called on Mark Drakeford to back his call to ban the technology from the steps of the Senedd, where protests are often held.
“According to the UK Government’s own biometrics and forensics ethics group, the lack of representation of ethnic minority faces in the training data on which the technology used by the police is based means it is more likely to identify innocent black people as criminals,” Adam Price said.
“This will exacerbate the racial disproportionality in rates of detention that you, yourself, have acknowledged. In Scotland, the use of this technology is banned for this reason.
“We lack the power to do so currently in Wales, but will you at least support the prohibition of its use on publicly owned land like the Senedd steps?” he asked.
Mark Drakeford however did not say that he supported a ban on the Senedd steps.
“I’m very well aware of the concerns that surround face recognition technology, and I think those concerns deserve to be taken very seriously,” he said.
“I know that my colleague Jane Hutt has had an opportunity to discuss this and allied matters with the lead PCC for Wales, Dafydd Llywelyn, and we will continue to make sure those concerns are properly represented to PCCs, and indeed to chief constables where it’s an operational matter.”
According to the new College of Policing guidance, the technology can be used in police operations to find “people who are missing and potentially at a risk of harm; find people where intelligence suggests that they may pose a threat to themselves or others; and arrest people who are wanted by police or courts”, including terrorists and stalkers whom officers have intelligence on.
It also says that “images that may be deemed appropriate” for inclusion on any watchlist include “a victim of an offence or a person who the police have reasonable grounds to suspect would have information of importance and relevance to progress an investigation, or who is otherwise a close associate of an individual”.
The guidance was issued after the Court of Appeal ruled in 2020 that the use of facial recognition cameras by South Wales Police as part of a pilot scheme breached privacy rights and broke equalities law.
But Silkie Carlo, director of the civil liberties and privacy campaigning organisation Big Brother Watch, put out a statement saying there was a danger of “mission creep with this Orwellian surveillance technology and now we see that this new policy specifically allows innocent people to be put on facial recognition watchlists”.
“This includes victims, potential witnesses, people with mental health problems, or possible friends of any of those people. It is an atrocious policy and a hammer blow to privacy and liberty in our country,” she said.
“Parliament has never debated facial recognition or passed a law allowing it to be used. The public wants police to catch criminals but no one wants dangerously inaccurate tech turning our streets into police line-ups.”
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