Facing up to the problem- Police use of facial recognition technology


Colin Rogers is Professor of Police Sciences. A former police inspector, he is the author of numerous research articles and books on policing and lectures on the police courses at USW.

His areas of expertise includes police governance and accountability.

"THE RELATIONSHIP between the police and the public they serve is referred to in this country as the democratic model of policing. The term ‘Policing by Consent’ along with other such sayings as ‘the public are the police and the police are the public’, are constantly used to reinforce what is in reality a contested concept. What is true however, is that the relationship between the public and the way they are policed is a delicate one.

"Police, in the age of austerity, are constantly turning to technology for an answer to reduced police numbers, bigger societal changes, the increased use of technology and a change in the way crime is being carried out. It is small wonder then that the use of facial recognition technology should hold such an attraction. Our faces are most times on display so are easily focused upon.

GettyImages-1180902197.jpg Advanced Facial Recognition

Advanced Facial Recognition: Getty Images

"The main problem appears to be not necessarily the use of such technology (although many are yet to be convinced of its reliability) but the rules and accountability process that frameworks its use. Should it be a free for all, with cameras roaming the streets and picking up images of wanted individuals? Or should it be tightly controlled within specific tasks, utilising only certain photographic images prepared for this specific event?

"Civil liberties groups rightly contest its widespread use with little or no control. This type of use is only one step away from the world of big brother, although some may argue we already live in such a state given that the last estimate for the number of CCTV cameras in this country was over 4 million.

"The police of course, charged with our safety and security, want to put in place a system that will make it easier to catch criminals. Therein lies the problem. The delicate balance between civil rights of individuals and the needs of an organisation charged with removing criminals from the same society.

"Facial recognition could be the start of the biometric approach that could utilise our DNA, big data and possibly Artificial Intelligence to assist our police and security services. It is right that we should challenge its use and open up the debate so that individuals liberties are protected, for once surrendered, they will be very difficult to recover."

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