Skip to main content

UK police facial recognition database filled with innocent people

Britain's got a fairly bad reputation when it comes to surveillance, but the latest news in monitoring people simply takes the crown.

As BBC's Newsnight (opens in new tab)has learned, police forces in England and Wales have a facial recognition database of up to 18 million mugshots.

It wouldn't be such a big deal if most of those people were completely innocent, never charged, and if it weren't unlawful.

The images were uploaded without Home Office approval, and as an independent commissioner said, could include photos of "hundreds of thousands" of innocent people.

The police insist the database complies with the Data Protection Act, BBC writes.

Speaking in his first interview, Biometrics Commissioner Alastair MacGregor QC told Newsnight that police forces had begun setting up a searchable database of police mugshots last year, without telling either him or the Home Office.

Almost every police force in England and Wales has now supplied photographs, he said.

In 2012, two people went to the High Court to force the Metropolitan Police to delete their photos from the database.

Ever since the ruling, the Met has stopped putting images in the database, said Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe: "So the broad concern is - are we keeping images of people who aren't convicted, and are we using them?" he said. "I don't think this is against the law but of course we always want to catch criminals."

The biggest fear to this approach lies in the fact that police find facial recognition software to be 100 per cent true.

Andy Ramsay, identification manager at Leicestershire Police said searches of the database using facial recognition were 100 per cent reliable in cases where there were clear images, and could be completed in seconds.

But MacGregor said he had concerns about the reliability of facial recognition technology.

"If the facial recognition software throws up a false match, one of the consequences of that could easily send an investigation off into the completely wrong direction," he added.

Sead Fadilpašić is a freelance tech writer and journalist with more than 17 years experience writing technology-focussed news, blogs, whitepapers, reviews, and ebooks. And his work has featured in online media outlets from all over the world, including Al Jazeera Balkans (where he was a Multimedia Journalist), Crypto News, TechRadar Pro, and IT Pro Portal, where he has written news and features for over five years. Sead's experience also includes writing for inbound marketing, where he creates technology-based content for clients from London to Singapore. Sead is a HubSpot-certified content creator.