Lord Evans argued it would be “foolish” to deny potential benefits, including combating terrorism by identifying ‘hostile reconnaissance activity’
Facial recognition technology could prevent future terror attacks like that at London Bridge and Borough Market, a former MI5 chief says.
Lord Evans of Weardale, who headed the security service for six years, highlighted the value of the system in tackling the threat faced by the UK as well as in the fight against crime.
The independent crossbencher cautioned against overemphasising the risks posed by the technology given the opportunities it offered.
He made his comments during a debate in the House of Lords that heard calls for it to be banned, amid concerns over intrusion and the lack of regulation governing its use.
Lord Evans, an adviser to Facewatch Ltd, a crime prevention service that uses facial recognition technology, argued it would be “foolish” to deny its potential benefits, including in combating terrorism by identifying “hostile reconnaissance activity”.
He said: “The attacks that we saw last year at London Bridge and Borough Market were very likely preceded by reconnaissance activity and one can envisage that the use of facial recognition technology would be able to identify that in advance and enable preemptive action to be taken.
“Because particularly on the terrorism side, we already know the faces of most of those who would like to attack us and we have them on record.
“So to be able to identify their hostile activities in advance is a very valuable intelligence tool.”
He added: “In regard to everyday crime I think this also offers us real opportunities given the pressure on police budgets.
“Anything which makes policing more effective and more efficient we should be welcoming rather than viewing with deep suspicion.”
Lord Evans called for future government guidance to strike “an appropriate balance which encourages the use of facial recognition technology for the public good whilst providing a proportionate degree of regulation over it”.
He said: “We should not smother innovation and it’s important that any oversight or accountability mechanism for this does not become too bureaucratic or process heavy in such a way as to provide a disincentive to use the systems.
“It’s also my view that this should not become a bonanza for the lawyers.”
The debate had been introduced by Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, who raised a series of concerns around the technology.
This included the use of images held on the Police National Database (PND) of people who were released without charge or later cleared.
There is no precise figure for the number of images of innocent people held on the PND but it is believed to run to hundreds of thousands.
Lady Jones called for all these images to be removed and for a ban the use of automatic facial recognition technology.
She said: “If the public are ever going to trust the use of this technology then the technology must be subject to the highest standards.
“As far as I can tell there’s absolutely no legal or regulatory framework that is governing the way police use automatic facial recognition.
“There’s a regulatory gap here that must be filled.”
Lady Jones added: “There are very real concerns out thee about the use of mass surveillance and facial recognition technology.
“We are moving into the kind of territory that even George Orwell couldn’t have imagined.”
“Our faces are now being used like fingerprints and DNA.
“If police were taking our fingerprints and DNA at sports events, carnivals and remembrance parades, then I think that would cause a great deal of discomfort and concern.”
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick, a former deputy assistant Met commissioner, said the technology offered opportunities, but added: “It has to be regulated, it can’t just be a free for all.”
Opposition spokesman Lord Kennedy of Southwark said: “The challenge is for both government and Parliament to set the right balance between ensuring he police and security services have the right tools, with the appropriate safeguards, to keep us safe and on the other hand to protect people’s personal liberty and their privacy.”
Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said: “Maintaining public trust and confidence is absolutely key.
“Achieving this involves a more open approach to the development and the deployment of new technologies.”
With many thanks to the: Police Oracle for the origional story.