back to article UK govt steams ahead with £5m facial recog system amid furore over innocents' mugshots

The UK Home Office has put out to tender a £4.6m ($5.9m) contract for facial recognition software – despite the fact its biometrics strategy and retention systems remain embroiled in controversy. According to the tender announcement, a company is sought to provide "a combination of biometric algorithm software and associated …

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge

    The Home Office meanwhile has continued to spend millions on bodycams for the police, whose images are uploaded to servers, despite there not being any official legal or operational rules in place

    Collect it all anyway, then say a few years years down the line that the police depend on it, it'd be too difficult to delete, and some retention rules which mean they get to keep it all anyway. Standard Home Office procedure.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Except the 5mins before the arrest of a strangley blood covered suspect for "resisting arrest" will be missing and the cctv of a suspect who died in a cell will have been deleted for privacy reasons

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Simply...

      It's a Ruddy Nightmare...as per usual.

  2. Gordon Pryra

    But think of the children!!

    Nothing to hide then nothing to fear!!1

    etc etc

    Or the reality,

    You CANNOT trust any .Gov department or organisation (NHS is a good example) with your data. From staff within the organisations making personal use of the data to it being given out to anyone (people getting databases of gun owners for their own personal use? Handing over medical records to Google?)

    How about some more uncomfortable truth, the lack of protection for this data. Contractors walking around with clinical data on USB sticks, laptops not being correctly encrypted (or just not encrypted) to workstations and servers not being patched and running Windows Xp........

    On top of that, as was mentioned in the article about mission creep. If the data is there, it WILL be mined and used in ways never thought possible even 5 years ago

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: But think of the children!!

      Maybe, for once, we all just need to hope that Capita get the contract.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: But think of the children!!

        So the data can leak overseas instead?

      2. macjules Silver badge

        Re: But think of the children!!

        Bah! £4.6m does not even get Capita to look at the specs. Simple Capita calculation:

        Is contract worth over £4Bn? Yes/No

        Will contract period overrun the next General Election? Yes/No

        Does the client actually require the contract to be completed? Yes/No

        Can we double the cost overrun? Yes/No

    2. JohnMurray

      Re: But think of the children!!

      Within the NHS, there are differing levels of security on data systems.

      All personnel can only log into the system with a valid ID smartcard.

      Differing levels of access exist depending upon staff position.

      Hospitals cannot access GP data!

      GPs' cannot access secondary-care systems!

      I have no idea about police access to information, except to note that there are frequent prosecutions of personnel for illegally accessing data.

      Both police and NHS systems leave an audit trail, and both are regularly checked.

      However: shit ' appens

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: But think of the children!!

        are frequent prosecutions of personnel for illegally accessing data.

        There are frequent statements that "lessons have been learned" for illegally accessing data with very occasional long periods on administrative leave on full pay

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But think of the children!!

        “All personnel can only log into the system with a valid ID smartcard”

        That very much depends on the system in question.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    You know this is the Home Office

    "request can be turned down if it meets the highly ambiguous and vague standard that retention would serve "a policing purpose." The police themselves get to decide if that is the case."

    Not to mention the HO's presumption of "Give us the tools and we'll do the job." Unfortunately in their view (and by "them" I mean the small cabal of senior level Sir Humphries, " and their willing tools, who are behind this) the job is having something so everyone can be locked up.

    And the presumption is (and will continue to be) it's better to keep DNA/fingerprints/faces/blood/sweat/tears/whatever forever because to a data fetishist more data is always better

    This is also probably related to the problems of setting up the Norther Irish /RoI border-that's-not-a-border-despite-them-being-in-different-customs-regimes. Apparently HMG reckon "technology" will deal with this.

    I saw that thing "The Prisoner." I wonder how many of these people growing up saw that closing shot of Patrick McGoohan's facing hitting a set of iron bars and thought "One day all the UK will be like that."

    Welcome to HMP UK.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: You know this is the Home Office

      This is also probably related to the problems of setting up the Norther Irish /RoI border-that's-not-a-border-despite-them-being-in-different-customs-regimes. Apparently HMG reckon "technology" will deal with this.

      Yeah, that's going to work - a couple of people apprehended crossing the border because they had a 'checkered' past will cause a fury, ending in a policy or implementation rethink, then quietly dropped.

      1. 8Ace

        Re: You know this is the Home Office

        Great article on the BBC. Apparantly there are more border crossings in Ireland, than on all of the EU's eastern borders put together !

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40949424

  4. malle-herbert
    Joke

    So it's basically...

    All your face belong to us !

    1. Solarflare

      Re: So it's basically...

      Can't give you an upvote I'm afraid, it should have been "All your face are belong to us"

      1. BoldMan

        Re: So it's basically...

        Still not quite right it should be

        "All your face are belong us"

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Gimp

      Re: So it's basically...All your face belong to us !

      Soon citizen, soon.

      <Signed>

      Big Brother.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: So it's basically...All your face belong to us !

        Big Brother requires human faces to stamp upon forever.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's fine....

    ...the EU have strong data protection laws to prevent this sort of thing.

    Oh wait.

    Well done folks.

    1. Ucalegon

      Re: It's fine....

      ".the EU have strong data protection laws to prevent this sort of thing.

      Oh wait.

      Well done folks."

      Curse those faceless Eurocrats!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Britains' Open Prison...

    It's the same as the "Notting Hill Carnival v Chelsea Flower Show" question of where to "trial" this tech.

    You know where the vast majority of these Cameras will end up.

  7. wyatt

    I use to work as 1st line support for Ident1. Frequently requests came in to remove (weed) finger print records which we (2nd line) did. How easy it was to get them removed I'm not sure but there was a process which could be used.

    This was however, a UK wide system. All police forces used it so we controlled the centralised storage where they were kept. How you'd get each individual force to remove an image I don't know, I bet few have a process in place for this to happen.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      However requesting that your image is removed now marks you as a "person of interest" so there is a valid policing reason for retaining your image

      1. Pedigree-Pete
        Holmes

        "person of interest"

        @YAAc. I was going to casually ask how you get photos, DNA, fingerprints removed from Plods dBase if there at all but now I think I'll just sit quiet. PP

        damn it. Should have posted as AC.

        1. Pedigree-Pete
          Black Helicopters

          Re: "person of interest"

          ..but then Edmund Burke sprang to mind. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". PP

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are two outcomes,

    1. The system is completed on time and is a success, the police now have everyone's face print and know where you have been and where you go.

    2. The system is a monumental cock up that over runs time and budget till someone decides to just sack it off.

    I hoping for outcome 2, the more worrying aspect is who else gets/is getting this data because there are parts of government not so incompetent when it comes to this shit.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Christoph

      Re: No Detail On The Accuracy Of System

      And no detail on false positives.

      Someone who is wrongly identified as one of the people on this database will get flagged over and over again. Sometimes without their knowledge - they will get endless problems with no way to find the cause or fix the problem.

      1. Aitor 1

        Re: No Detail On The Accuracy Of System

        Ohh it is way worse.

        You, the citizen that has a passport, pays taxes etc, get in the DDBB.

        A random criminal is identified as you by the system, and gets charged.

        No, wait, YOU get charged, or, worse still, now the police thinks you have been detained X times.

        Of course, they would not tell you, and you will wonder why cant you get a new job.. as they are checking your backgrounds and voila!! you have police records!! good luck proving this is incorrect.

    2. Bernard M. Orwell

      Re: No Detail On The Accuracy Of System

      "Facial recognition tracking - what if people at the time know about the facial recognition system, and then decide to wear glasses that disrupt the software ?"

      Or, better and more weirdly still, straight from your favourite cyberpunk setting; https://cvdazzle.com/

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No Detail On The Accuracy Of System

      Seems like the best circumvention is to wear a burka/facekini.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. magickmark
    Big Brother

    There are two outcomes

    I could just imagine this as a conversation from "Yes Minister" between Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker:

    SH: So Minister there are two outcomes to this:

    1. The system is completed on time and is a success, the police now have everyone's face print and know where you have been and where you go.

    2. The system is a monumental cock up that over runs time and budget till someone decides to just sack it off.

    JH: Yes but which one do we expect it to be?

    SH: Both, Minister.

    JH: Both?! How can it be both?

    SH: Well Minister, you see the Government has a track record of not doing well in completing I.T. projects.

    JH: Yes I know. So the likely outcome is that the project will not work and be quietly killed off and the police will complain that they cannot do their job correctly?

    SH: No Minister

    JH: (looking puzzled) So the project will be a success and personal freedoms will be reduced?

    SH: No Minister

    JH: So what will it be?

    SH: Well Minister, the project will be completed, the IT and the technology will work perfectly. But just before the project goes live the Government Accountability Office will question the costing and value of the project and recommends the project shuts down, which of course the Government will take on board and then order a formal review of the project.

    In the meantime the Police will have had access to the system and be testing it, oh lets say for the next 10 years, while the review is carried out. By which time the technology will need to be updated anyway.

    JH: Ah so the police get what they want, and the public are none the wiser and carry on with life as normal forgetting about the whole issue.

    SH: Yes, Minister.

  11. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    And at the Spring 2021 London Fashion Week shows...

    Everyone will be wearing those lovely facial recognition confusing patterns on their clothes

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/04/anti-surveillance-clothing-facial-recognition-hyperface

    as well as some interesting make-up styles. I also predict a major expansion in sales of Guy Fawkes/Anonymous masks.

    1. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

      Re: And at the Spring 2021 London Fashion Week shows...

      No no no, you have missed the preferred option. Wear a mask of your 'favourite' politician or celebrity to cause maximum confusion.

      There will be a small number of people who can go one better if they are part of a set of identical twins/triplets etc....Just think how much fun they could be having with this

  12. D Moss Esq

    Home Office astrology strategy

    Biometrics based on facial recognition doesn't work. Not at the mass consumer scale.

    Given which, it is bizarre to berate the Home Office, as ElReg do, for not having a facial recognition biometrics strategy. You might as well demand a horoscope strategy.

    Given which, there is no civil liberties problem here. Our civil liberties can't be infringed by a technology that doesn't work.

    Both our location and the network of people we contact and who contact us are available to the police from mobile phone records. That's more of an issue. As is the failure of the UK Home Office to obey the law. But facial recognition biometrics? No. The only questions there are why are the police wasting their time and our money.

    Mockery is the best response. To throw up your hands in horror at the infringement of civil liberties is to help the biometrics salesmen to make their case.

    More amused mockery, please.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Home Office astrology strategy

      We know it doesn't work, but that won't stop a lot of people being badly inconvenienced by false positives.

      Remember, various branches of the US government actually think lie-detectors work.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Home Office astrology strategy

        There were a series of cases where the innocent/guilty algorithm was confused by a deep tan.

  13. handleoclast

    It has to be all or nothing

    A partial database makes it very likely that an innocent person who is on there for whatever reason may prove to be the closest match (because the person who was actually caught on cam isn't in the db).

    The police have, in the past (and will in the future) concentrated on suspects who seemed most likely at the start of the case. What tends to happen is that as the case progresses, evidence which tends to make it less likely the main suspect didn't do it is discarded. Confirmation bias sets in early.

    This same argument can be made against DNA databases (and was made by Richard Dawkins, whom I stole it from). If you have the whole population and 100s of matches are spat out, you look at other evidence to figure out which person did it. If you have a limited db and 1 match pops out, you look for evidence that confirms that person did it (and even invent implausible theories to evade circumstantial evidence).

    So all or nothing.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: It has to be all or nothing

      Or if you have everyone's DNA you select which sequence groups you match on to get a fit on your preferred suspect then go to court and have your pet expert witness claim that the 1 in a billion chance of a match implies that there is a 1 in a billion chance that the person is innocent.

      The process is simplified if you contract out the DNA matching to a commercial lab and explain to them that the chance of their contract being renewed is proportional to the number of "correct" matches they find

  14. Wolfclaw

    So retention is illegal, but we'll just keep breaking the law and hope it all goes away. Who says that the Government and Police are above the law !

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      I never broke the law! I AM THE LAW!

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    Now was that Buttle or Tuttle?

    I'm not quite sure.

    Mines the one with the DVD of "Brazil" in the pocket.

  16. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "That approach was declared illegal by the High Court back in 2012 and Lord Justice Richards told the police to revise its policies, giving them a period of "months not years" to do so."

    Perhaps the then Home Secretary should be hauled up for contempt of court for failing to implement this.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Perhaps the then Home Secretary should be hauled up for contempt of court for failing to implement this.

      But they were democratically elected - so it is really the electorate who are guilty and so the police should now hold all their details

  17. Florida1920
    Coat

    Not that I don't trust government

    But I can see so many ways this can go wrong, now and in future. The government you have today is not the government you may have in 5-10-25 years time. Whatever those governments are like, they will have all this data, and you can bet they'll use it. Sure, they'll say the innocent images are deleted. Nudge-nudge wink-wink. Terrorist attacks are bad, but they don't justify the level of intrusiveness so-called Western democracies are engaging in.

    The one with a thumb drive containing "deleted" images in the pocket.

  18. Winkypop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Soon, citizen, soon

    Everyone will need a photo-ID 'breathing' licence.

    Opt out if you want, but no air for you!

    1. Jtom

      Re: Soon, citizen, soon

      Or a license to exhale carbon dioxide. Can't exceed a prescribed amount. If anyone objects, well, they must hate children. Think of the future of children who will be forced to live in a world that's 0.05 degrees hotter!

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