UK Police to Use NEC Facial Recognition App to Identify Suspects

November 21, 2023

In the United Kingdom, police chiefs are planning to roll out facial recognition technology to identify criminals by taking pictures on their mobile phones and rapidly searching for potential matches in their extensive database within seconds. The facial recognition app known as Operator Initiated Facial Recognition (OIFR), is already being trialed by three police force units using iPatrol software.

By May 2024, the UK police intend to enhance the utilization of facial recognition by 100% to verify individuals and establish a nationwide roadmap for OIFR, reported Daily Mail. The implementation of facial recognition technology was announced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council last Sunday.

The trials were carried out by the South Wales, Gwent, and Cheshire police forces and sparked controversy, mainly because the app has been used for identifying deceased individuals.

Jeremy Vaughan, the national expert on facial recognition and Chief Constable of South Wales Police, reportedly expressed his admiration for the technology. He said, “It can cut the amount of time spent trying to identify an offender from days and months to just minutes”.

Moreover, he commented, “But we recognize the need to balance the use of new technology with the right to privacy”.

Civil society groups have apparently criticized the move for a potential breach of citizens’ privacy. One such reaction has come from Big Brother Watch,  a UK civil liberties, and privacy campaigning organization which reportedly condemned this technology as ‘Orwellian’ and characterized its use for identifying dead bodies as ‘creepy’.

A spokesperson for the organization said, “Operator-initiated facial recognition puts Orwellian surveillance technology in the pockets of police officers”.

NeoFace, the face recognition algorithm by NEC serves as the foundation of OIFR. A joint trial of the OIFR software was executed for a period of three months, in collaboration between the South Wales and Gwent police forces. Once a match is found, officers can access all personal information and intelligence records associated with the suspect in the Police National Computer database.

Insights of South Wales Police on Facial Recognition

South Wales Police utilized the facial recognition application for at least 42 times, leading to 20 arrests. However, the app failed to identify a match in 16 instances, with four searches being abandoned and two labeled as incomplete. By utilizing the app, the police managed to identify one missing person and two deceased individuals.

The trial data highlights that there could be a racial bias in facial recognition algorithms as well leading to discrimination against a particular ethnic group. South Wales data showed a discrepancy in the use of the application, as it captured nearly 31 percent of individuals with either black or Asian ethnicity, even though the ethnic minority population in South Wales is only 8.5 percent.

Also read: Facial Recognition in KYC Identity Verification and How Does it Work?