UK Police Forces Have Secret Facial Recognition Database Of 18 Million People, Many Innocent

from the false-positives dept

The UK already has a pretty awful reputation when it comes to surveillance, what with millions of CCTV cameras, DRIPA and two recent attempts to shove the Snooper's Charter through Parliament without scrutiny. So perhaps it should come as no surprise to discover that UK police forces have created a giant facial recognition database that includes hundreds of thousands of innocent people:

Police forces in England and Wales have uploaded up to 18 million "mugshots" to a facial recognition database -- despite a court ruling it could be unlawful.

They include photos of people never charged, or others cleared of an offence, and were uploaded without Home Office approval, [the BBC's] Newsnight has learned.
As BBC News notes, the photos of innocent people have been retained in contempt of an explicit order from the court to remove them:
It comes despite a ruling in 2012, when two people went to the High Court to force the Metropolitan Police to delete their photos from databases.

The judge warned forces should revise their policies in "months, not years".
Also worrying is this belief in the database's infallibility:
Andy Ramsay, identification manager at Leicestershire Police, told Newsnight the force now had a database with 100,000 custody photos.

He said searches of the database using facial recognition were 100% reliable in cases where there were clear images, and could be completed in seconds.
No non-trivial matching system is "100% reliable": there are always false positives that make detection of criminals harder, not easier. There is a danger that the UK police will start using this supposed infallibility as an argument in itself: since our system never makes mistakes, if it says you are guilty, you must be guilty. And there is another important issue, articulated here by David Davis, a former Conservative minister:
"It's quite understandable, police always want more powers, but I'm afraid the courts and parliament say there are limits," he said.

"You cannot treat innocent people the same way you treat guilty people."
What's worrying is that UK police forces don't seem to care what the courts say, as they strive to create their video surveillance database that does indeed treat everyone in exactly the same way: as potential criminals until the "100% reliable" system turns them into recognized criminals.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Feb 2015 @ 11:34pm

    Unsurprising result

    If there is absolutely no penalty for ignoring a court order telling them to get rid of the photos, then it's hardly surprising that the police ignored the judge and kept them. Really, what's the judge going to do, shake his finger and 'Tut tut' a few times?

    When judges, in the US, UK, and elsewhere, lack the spine or power to hold those before them accountable for their actions, and assign actual penalties to government and/or 'public servants' who are found guilty of something, then while it may be disappointing and disgusting, it's hardly surprising that they flagrantly ignore what the judges rule like this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 7:33am

      Re: Unsurprising result

      Start arresting the heads of the police departments or intel agencies for contempt of the court and you'll see this being quickly scaled back. It won't happen of course.

      Meanwhile there's a certain guy that offers his face for free if you want to use it as a mask to confuse the systems.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 7:54am

      Re: Unsurprising result

      with fire and sword sadly is what this will end up as. The people can only be pushed around so long before they lash out.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 18 Feb 2015 @ 1:06am

    Well...

    It would appear that the only way the judge's order will carry any weight if he packs all the court's clerks, enters police headquarters and smashes the computers with a sledge hammer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 1:23am

    don't they get it

    Everytime law-enforcement flirts with the (darker) grey areas of the law, they are kinda handing over a big monkey wrench that actual criminals can use to throw in to the wheels of justice. Innocent free speech caught in crossfire again. Helping police, corporations and criminals get away with more abuse ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 1:47am

    The entire UK government is like if they stepped out of a nightmare. With the yearly "scandals" where massive corruption (and kid fiddling) is discovered, cameras everywhere, "lords" who are above the law and these new laws...
    I hope they will leave the EU soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 1:50am

    "No non-trivial matching system is "100% reliable""

    Yeah, that's the scary thing here. It's not just the collection of data, but the lack of understanding that no system is perfect and false positives will always happen. Whether biometric data (DNA, fingerprints) or other types of record, neither the collection, storage nor processing of the data can ever be totally reliable. Only a complete fool would think otherwise.

    Nothing is more terrifying to my mind than an innocent person dealing with a bureaucracy that cannot accept its own fallibility. Once again, as with 1984 - Brazil was a cautionary tale, not a how-to guide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 3:40am

      Re:

      This court finds the defendant guilty, based on the preponderance of tautologies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Graham Rogers (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 6:41am

      Re: 100% reliable

      PaulT - nice reference to Brazil.

      A propos of the reliability, Rob Jenkins (one of the researchers in the corneal reflections project - Dec 2013) is on record with "Studies typically assume that a photograph adequately captures a person's appearance, and for that reason most studies use just one, or a small number of photos per person. I will describe a number of studies to highlight that photographs are not reliable indicators of facial appearance because they are blind to within-person variability."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 1:57am

    100% reliable? That must take a lot of false flags and sweeping laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 3:00am

      Re:

      I think all he did was to redefine some words:

      "He said searches of the database using facial recognition were 100% reliable in cases where there were clear images,"

      So the defintion of "clear images" is now "where the facial recognition gets it right".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 3:37am

        Re: Re:

        Easier than that: searches of the db reliably return no matches, a positive match, or a false match 100% of the time.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 2:33am

    I think they've been watching to much NCIS style TV and decided - yeah that facial recognition technology looks great, lets do that...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 3:05am

      Re:

      Funny thing, i dont think you're far from the truth........either that, or this is how they "break" it to the public

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 3:57am

    'UK police forces don't seem to care what the courts say'

    i cant imagine where they copied this mindset from! similar with the

    'searches of the database using facial recognition were 100% reliable'

    mistakes are never made, my ass!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 7:49am

    No one is innocent. They are guilty of the crime of dissent against their ruling party.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 9:13am

    It's ironic that there is a posting about a stupid criminal posting a selfie with his victim immediately followed by a post about a stupid law enforcement action.

    Every time I see a story that says criminals are mostly stupid and will be caught through their own actions I am reminded of the fact that the people we task with enforcing the law are generally just as stupid. Worse, many just don't care in the first place and it's just a job to them.

    They also are under the mistaken belief that they are smarter than both the criminals and those that wrote the laws they are supposed to enforce & follow themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 3:00pm

    They're all guilty...

    some of them just got away with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MrTroy (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 8:56pm

    I find it a little surprising that there are "hundreds of thousands of innocent people" in a database of 18 million people in the UK. I mean, have you been there? There couldn't be more than two, three dozen, tops!

    More seriously, you should consider revising the title - the linked article mentions "up to 18 million mugshots", and I'd suggest that would likely represent far less than 18 million people - it just isn't feasible that they have "mugshots" of nearly a third of their population. Surveillance photos, on the other hand...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 19 Feb 2015 @ 9:00am

      Re:

      I think that a picture of a face in a governmental database can correctly be called a "mugshot" even if that photo came from surveillance cameras.

      Here in the US, pretty much everyone who has obtained or renewed their driver's license after about 2005 has their photo entered into a government database with an eye specifically toward being able to do face recognition searches on them. All of these photos are mugshots.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2015 @ 4:26pm

    The "Innocent" are just people who have not yet found the opportunity to commit a crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 21 Feb 2015 @ 6:54pm

    No such thing

    "Innocent? No one is innocent! Excepting us purists in government of course, anyone 'innocent' just hasn't been caught yet."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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