December 2022 NewsLetter Newsletter

A Sociotechnical Audit: Assessing Police Use of Facial Recognition – A Report from the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy, University of Cambridge

Live Facial Recognition technology (LFR) involves linking cameras to databases containing images of people for matching. The police believe this technology helps them combat crime and terrorism. Previous research threw doubt on this and the Court of Appeal found in 2020 that the use of this technology by South Wales police was unlawful. 

This new research raises further critical questions. Based on an examination of three deployments of LFR in London and South Wales, findings show that the deployments lacked regular oversight from an independent ethics committee and the public, especially the marginalised communities most affected, and that they did not ensure a reliable ‘human in the loop’. There were also no clear redress measures for people harmed by the use of facial recognition. Nor did the deployments incorporate many of the known practices for the safe and ethical use of large-scale data systems for the following reasons: 

  • they were not transparently evaluated for bias in the technology or discrimination in its usage
  • they were very broad in scope
  • they may have infringed privacy rights e.g. South Wales Police used LFR at a peaceful protest, interfering with the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. 

As all three deployments failed ‘to meet ethical and legal standards’, the researchers concluded that LFR should be banned from use in streets, airports and public spaces. Furthermore, it was time for the government to create guidelines balancing potential security benefits with safeguards as it has with respect to fingerprinting and DNA. To read the report, go to