Posted: Tue 21st May 2024

Police use facial recognition technology at Holyhead Port to catch suspect

North Wales news and information
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, May 21st, 2024

Police are set to pilot the use of live facial recognition technology at Holyhead Port over the next two days.

North Wales Police said the technology will be used today (Tuesday, 21 May) and tomorrow to help identify suspects wanted for “priority offences” and missing people.

The technology operations by mapping people’s unique facial features and matching them against faces on watch-lists.

The use of such technology by police has led to concerns being raised by privacy campaigners over how data is stored and used.

Regarding its use in Holyhead, a force spokesperson said: “North Wales Police will be using live facial recognition at Holyhead Port on Tuesday, May 21 and Wednesday, May 22, 2024 as a proactive deployment to identify suspects, persons wanted on warrant and missing persons.

“The specific purpose for live facial recognition deployment is to support policing in the identification of persons wanted for priority offences, to support law enforcement including the administration of justice (through arrest of persons wanted on warrant or unlawfully at large/ recall to prison), and to promote safeguarding of vulnerable persons.

“The locations where facial recognition is deployed are clearly marked with signage.”

A Q&A on the North Wales Police website addresses some of the concerns raised over the use of the technology, stating:

Are all facial profiles that are captured, stored for any length of time? Can only suspects and wanted people be identified, or does it use other sources of facial profiles in addition to police records?

If you are not on a watchlist we will never store your biometric data. It is immediately and automatically deleted. In addition, North Wales Police will delete all alerts within 24 hours at the end of the operation. The CCTV footage used by the technology, is recorded, and kept for up to 31 days. If there is an incorrect alert, the information and image will be deleted straight away.

What is the list of faces that are used to compare during the deployment?

This is a watch list for deployments which contain details of people who are wanted for crimes, subject to court orders or pose a risk to the public. Unless you are on the watch list you cannot be matched. South Wales Police are providing the technology for this deployment and there has not been one single wrongful arrest because of their use of facial recognition. When the technology finds a possible match, an alert is generated.

Any alerts are verified by an operator prior to an intervention by officers on the ground. The system will only seek to match those individuals placed on the watch list. Each watch list is unique to that event where the technology is being deployed.

What is meant by deleting “no alert” images and biometric data immediately if CCTV footage is kept for 31 days?

This relates to biometric data so for people who don’t cause an alert. The biometric data is automatically and immediately deleted. For those images that cause an alert, these are deleted within 24 hours.

What about privacy rights and the legality of live facial recognition technology?

The use of live facial recognition technology by North Wales Police is designed to be responsible, proportionate, and fair. It aims to keep the public safe, identifying serious offenders and protecting the vulnerable. North Wales Police uses transparency that demonstrates effectiveness, proportionality and compliance with legislation and guidelines when deploying live facial recognition technology.

Can I opt out if I’m a law-abiding citizen?

Only persons who are wanted or suspect will be on an authorised watch list, and they are unable to opt out. If you wish to physically avoid a deployment this is not grounds on its own for us to have any interaction with you. We will publish the dates and locations of a deployment in advance, except in very exceptional circumstances.

Will there be any data kept on file and if so, how do we apply for access to that data?

Images/biometric data of those who don’t cause an alert are automatically and immediately deleted. Images which cause an alert are deleted immediately after using them, or within 24 hrs. CCTV footage that’s used by the LFR technology is recorded and kept for 31 days.

Is the live facial recognition technology discriminatory in any way?

Historically there have been issues with Facial Recognition Technology and potential gender and ethnic bias. As the technology has developed over time this bias has reduced greatly.

Following work by South Wales Police, the Met, and the National Physics Laboratory, a report has been produced which gives an impartial, scientifically underpinned and evidence-based analysis of the performance of the facial recognition algorithm that will be used. As a result:

There is now a better understanding of the demographic performance of the LFR system. There are settings the algorithm can be operated at where there is no statistical significance between demographic performance, and North Wales Police only uses the setting where this is the case.

Is the data being passed on to other parties?

We will never pass biometric data to third party agencies.
All CCTV footage generated from a mobile CCTV deployment is deleted within 31 days, in the following examples when it is retained:

In accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018, MOPI and the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act 1996; and /or
In accordance with North Wales Police’s complaints / conduct investigation policies.

Can you tell us roughly what percentage of facial captures are recognised by the system? Also, what facial database do you use to compare images against?

This percentage can vary and is impacted by several factors including the scope of the watch list and how many people pass through the zone of recognition for the camera. The database used will be composed of lawfully held images already in the possession of North Wales Police, from our existing record management system, or the police national computer.

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