ICO voices concerns over live facial recognition

UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham has said that she is “deeply concerned” about the potential for live facial recognition (LFR) to be used inappropriately, excessively, or even recklessly.

Denham warned that while facial recognition technology can be beneficial, when its algorithms are used to scan people’s faces in real time and in more public contexts, the risk to privacy increases.

On Friday, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published a ‘Commissioner’s Opinion’ on the use of LFR in public places by both private and public organisations.

The report is informed in part by six ICO investigations into the use, testing and planning of LFR systems, alongside the office’s assessment of other proposals sent by organisations.

Denham said that it was telling that none of the organisations involved in the investigation were able to fully justify the processing and, of those systems that went live, none were fully compliant with the requirements of data protection law.

According to the ICO, all of those organisations chose to stop, or not proceed with, the use of LFR.

“It is not my role to endorse or ban a technology but, while this technology is developing and not widely deployed, we have an opportunity to ensure it does not expand without due regard for data protection,” said the commissioner. “Organisations will need to demonstrate high standards of governance and accountability from the outset, including being able to justify that the use of LFR is fair, necessary and proportionate in each specific context in which it is deployed."

She added that these companies or public bodies need to demonstrate that less intrusive techniques won’t work.

“These are important standards that require robust assessment,” said Denham. “Organisations will also need to understand and assess the risks of using a potentially intrusive technology and its impact on people’s privacy and their lives. For example, how issues around accuracy and bias could lead to misidentification and the damage or detriment that comes with that.”

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