The biometric ethics group addresses the public-private use of facial recognition

A publicly accessible registry on collaborative uses of live facial recognition (LFR) should be created to reduce secrecy around public-private partnerships, says an advisory body to the Interior Ministry.

The Biometric and Forensic Ethics Group (BFEG), a non-departmental public advisory body sponsored by the Ministry of the Interior with a mandate to focus on the ethical aspects of technologies that produce biometric identifiers and data, has outlined a number of issues that They should be attended to by public-private collaborations in the use of TRF.

The publication of a briefing note in January 2020 follows a nearly year-long evidence-gathering mission by the BFEG, which focused in particular on how technology is used in collaboration between law enforcement and private entities.

In creating a publicly accessible registry, the BFEG said law enforcement should actively list documents on their websites related to each LFR technology implementation that identify the purpose of the collaboration, the identity of the private company involved, and the types. and the amount of data that is being used. shared, with whom and for how long.

The most notable example of UK law enforcement collaboration with private sector entities at LFR is King’s Cross Estate, which was revealed to be using the technology on a 67-acre area of ​​central London in August 2019.

Having initially denied any involvement, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the British Transport Police finally admitted in September 2019 to providing the King’s Cross Estate with images for their database.

Several major tech companies have also come under scrutiny for their ties to law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd’s assassination in the U.S. on May 25, 2020, and IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft agreed to temporarily halt their sales. of LFR technology to US law enforcement in June 2020.

The BFEG noted that public-private collaborations had the potential to exacerbate discrimination and bias that already exist in LFR technologies, “particularly in cases where a public authority does not examine the training data set and algorithm testing. of the private entity ”. He said these collaborations are crucial to the rapidly evolving nature of the technology “because private organizations are scaling and expanding what public authorities can do with it.”

The BFEG added: “Most of these [use cases] they could not be accurately described as partnerships, in the sense of a clearly defined formal or contractual relationship between two parties. However, they all involve collaboration, which means that there is a flow of data, computational infrastructure (hardware, software, platforms) and knowledge that crosses public-private borders ”.

In addition to calling for the creation of a publicly accessible registry, the BFEG recommended that, in the absence of a clear legislative framework, collaborative use of TRL should only be done if authorized by an officer with the rank of superintendent or above, and that it should establish an independent ethics group to oversee these associations.

“To maintain public confidence, the BFEG recommends that oversight mechanisms be established,” he said. “The BFEG suggests that an independent ethics group should be tasked with overseeing individual implementations of biometric recognition technologies by police and the use of biometric recognition technologies in public-private partnerships (P-PC).

“This independent ethics group would require that all proposed P-PCs and implementations be reviewed when established and monitored at regular intervals during their operation.”

Other recommendations included that the police should only be able to share data with “trusted private organizations,” specific members of which should also be scrutinized; that data should only be shared or accessible to the absolute minimum number of people; and that steps should be taken to securely share and store biometric data.

The BFEG note also made clear that any public-private collaboration must be able to demonstrate that it is necessary and that data sharing between organizations is proportionate.

“In general, the police are not allowed to share information about members of the public with private organizations,” he said. “Any departure from this fundamental ethical principle can only be justified if it serves an important public interest that could not be achieved without this collaboration.

“If the police cannot fulfill their responsibilities without collaborating with private organizations, then the data or information that the police, or indeed private organizations share with the police in these collaborations, should be only what is necessary for the police to carry out. its function.”

The BFEG added: “The benefits to the police must also be large enough to justify any loss of privacy involved in exchanging information, either by the police or by private organizations with the police.”

The evidence used to create the briefing note, which was compiled by BFEG’s Facial Recognition Task Force, came from stakeholders in industry, regulation, civil liberties, and the police.

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