Scotland’s police are making more use of controversial facial recognition technology


Concerns regarding accuracy and privacy were raised as the usage of face recognition technology by Police Scotland increased in only five years.

A controversial sort of face recognition technology has been widely used by Police Scotland over the last five years, raising concerns about incorrect suspect identifications. Concerns have been expressed about the increasing use of retroactive face recognition, with experts and campaigners demanding a reevaluation of its application and the need for additional protections.

Data received via Freedom of Information (FoI) requests show that Police Scotland has significantly increased its use of retroactive face recognition in the previous five years. This system uses computers to match photographs taken at crime scenes with the millions of images in police possession in the United Kingdom. Notably, Police Scotland is now the fourth most prolific force in the UK in terms of using this technology, having increased its usage of the face matching function from just under 1300 searches in 2018 to almost 4000 in 2022).

While Police Scotland regards retroactive face recognition as a crucial tool in identifying offenders, especially those engaged in child exploitation, concerns have been raised by activists and politicians. It has been shown that the technology may result in “false positives,” or the incorrect identification of people. Further, research has shown that face recognition systems contain biases, especially against women and people of color.

Experts in the area, including those who have advised the Scottish Government on face recognition, have asked for a halt of Police Scotland’s use of the technology until strong evidence can be presented to establish its appropriateness, proportionality, and efficacy. These worries have been exacerbated by the fact that the police database contains photos of people who were subsequently exonerated or found not guilty.

Police in Scotland are not alone in increasing their use of face recognition technology in their investigations. According to the Home Office, there will be 85,158 searches undertaken by police forces throughout the UK in 2022, up from 3,360 in 2014. Notably, the Metropolitan Police Department was responsible for about 30% of these searches in the previous year.

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