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Is facial recognition necessary for security or a violation of privacy? asks Sonia Blizzard, pictured, MD of telecoms and secure broadband connectivity company, Beaming.
With recent examples, such as the police tweeting a picture of Michael Macintyre taken from one of their surveillance drones in London, there is no surprise that the general public is concerned about the use of pictures taken by CCTV and drones and the effect on their privacy.
For more than a decade, security and police services across the world have been using facial recognition software with CCTV in order to help them to catch criminals and disrupt criminal activity. There has been some encouraging results. For example, in the case of London riots in 2011, 80pc of arrests were made from CCTV footage which generated an impressive 81pc conviction rate. Yet we can’t ignore the fact that the level of crime solved by CCTV is low when compared with the number of cameras in the UK. Why is this?
There are a number of reasons. Police find tracking down images hard work. You’d think that with the technology available today, this wouldn’t be the case and it certainly isn’t down to reluctance within the police as they have been actively pushing for more data to use for facial recognition. It is the availability of the images which is an issue.
Business owners have been sold plenty of CCTV packages which seemingly deliver ‘crime prevention’, but when it actually comes to acquiring the images needed they may not find them easy to download and the software format may make them difficult to view when they are required for evidence. If the timestamps on the images are wrong, this may make the data unreliable and as such it can’t be used for prosecution purposes. These issues come about due to the DIY efforts of businesses or the poor quality nature of the alarm company they have used.
Facial recognition software is not just used for fighting crime though. Retailers use facial recognition as a data collection exercise. Customer profiling is important, because it enables retailers to paint a picture of their customer demographic – male or female, how much they spend, what products they buy and so on. For example, Amscreen has developed technology that allows facial recognition software to identify all of these things ‘at a glance’, enabling businesses to tailor advertising messages specifically for them.
The public is not necessarily aware that these ‘face-prints’ are being taken and although they may be familiar with the concept on Facebook, once there is more general awareness of the implications, we can expect serious concerns about how and where the data is going to be used. In public spaces covered by CCTV, the general public is giving assumed permission as they are present in areas where the use of cameras is obvious. However, it is not only in public spaces where CCTV cameras are used, some potentially alongside facial recognition software; it is also in private companies, department stores, shopping malls and petrol stations.
So when the images can be retrieved, privacy is the main issue. The general public has every right to ask how the highly sensitive database used to match up faces is being protected by the police, where the retailers’ data is stored and how such images are used generally. The government, aware of these concerns, set up the role of Surveillance Camera Commissioner under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, whose job is to encourage compliance with the surveillance camera code of practice.
How do we allay the general public’s suspicions regarding the role of surveillance in our lives? Businesses need to use CCTV which is fit for purpose and make sure their use of facial recognition software does not stray beyond what is legally permitted. Crime will be reduced through the effective use of professional Alarm Receiving Centres, who have the confidentiality, integrity and availability of CCTV images and associated data at their core, through using products such as ProtectNet. And the police need to stop tweeting pictures of unsuspecting celebrities!