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UK Government looking to expand use of facial recognition technology

31 Aug 2023 4 minute read
Photo Stefan Rousseau. PA Images

The UK Government is considering expanding its use of facial recognition technology in police forces and security agencies.

The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) – the part of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) tasked with finding and funding technology for the armed forces, police and security services – has called on companies to help find “solutions that can help increase the use and effectiveness of facial recognition technologies within UK policing and security”.

The “market exploration” – which will run until October 12 – is looking for ideas that “could be deployed to benefit the Home Office and policing and within the next 18 months”.

Campaigners have branded the move “disturbing” and “unnecessary” as they likened it to “Orwellian mass surveillance” in Russia and China.

But policing minister Chris Philp and Professor Paul Taylor, the police chief scientific adviser, said they “strongly support” the potential expansion and use of the technology.

All 43 police forces of England and Wales “are an example of potential customers” for such technologies, alongside “other security agencies”, the bid published on behalf of the Home Office said.

Retrospective facial recognition

The Government is also looking to better its use of retrospective facial recognition, which allows authorities to use the technology “after an event to help establish who a person is or whether their image matches against other media held on image databases”.

The use of live facial recognition by police forces in public places – where cameras scan an area and analyse every person that passes through – has raised concerns about privacy.

There are also questions about how data is stored and the companies who supply the technology.

Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “It’s disturbing and deeply undemocratic that the Government is planning to expand facial recognition surveillance in the UK. This is an Orwellian mass surveillance tool rarely seen outside of Russia and China and has absolutely no place in Britain.

“The Government has no mandate at all to do this, and the fact that the rest of the democratic world is legislating to ban live facial recognition surveillance shows just how backwards the Home Office’s approach to this is.”


Megan Goulding, a lawyer at civil rights group Liberty, said: “We all have the right to go about our lives freely, without being scanned and monitored. It’s unacceptable that the Government is now looking for new ways to invade our privacy and free expression using facial recognition technology.

“This dystopian technology subjects anyone existing in public to intrusive surveillance, and has a harsher impact on those communities who are already unfairly targeted by the police.”

In a letter setting out the plans, Prof Taylor said: “The minister of state for crime, policing and fire and I strongly support the development and implementation of facial recognition technology within the law enforcement sector and are encouraged by its potential.

“We firmly believe that embracing this advanced technology can significantly enhance public safety while respecting individual rights and privacy. Industry is pivotal to realisation of that mission.

“It is essential to acknowledge the concerns surrounding facial recognition technology, particularly those relating to privacy and potential biases.

“However, responsible development and implementation of facial recognition systems can address these concerns effectively.

“By establishing robust governance frameworks, implementing strict data protection protocols, and ensuring transparency and accountability, we can strike the right balance between public safety and individual privacy rights.

“To maximise the technological benefits and minimise the risks associated with facial recognition, it is crucial that we support and encourage industry to continue developing capabilities which can be deployed effectively and ethically.”

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Pete Cuthbert
Pete Cuthbert
7 months ago

The neo-fascist Sunak regime in Westminster would naturally support anything that is going to provide a tool to enable them to stop people from protesting against their policies. They have a clear track record in this direction so we should not be surprised. However, we need to continue to complain to our MPs and MSs. It would be possible for the Senedd to ban the use of facial recognition software in Cymru though whether they have the ‘bottle’ to be that independent is a moot point.

Charles Coombes
Charles Coombes
7 months ago

After condemning China!

7 months ago

Does that technology work when confronted with lots of 2 faced Tory ministers ?

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