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Facial Recognition (11998/19)


The Biometrics Commissioner gave evidence to the Science and Technology Committee on 19 March 2019. During the session, the Commissioner mentioned to the Committee that other police forces, aside from the Met and South Wales Police, were about to trial facial recognition. Enquiries to his office resulted in the following response:

“The Home Office Police Digital Service is supporting operational pilots in police forces. In Kent and the West Midlands officers will use facial recognition in video for a limited period of time. Officers may use the technology where there is a risk of harm to the missing or vulnerable person.

The pilots will reuse CCTV gathered by the police in looking for a missing or vulnerable person. The pilots are overseen by the Law Enforcement Facial Images and New Biometric Modalities Oversight and Advisory Board. The pilots will help to assess the ethics and proportionality in the use of the technology.

The minutes of the Oversight Board do also mention these trials, albeit very briefly. I also understand that the forces carrying out the trials will be undertaking some public engagement”.

Please confirm the following:

  1. Whether West Midlands Police are intending to trial a program as described above
  2. What facial recognition program or software is being used and which company provides it
  3. What hardware is being used and which company provides it
  4. When the trial will start and end
  5. What the success criteria is for the trial
  6. What the oversight measures are for the trial
  7. Where the CCTV footage will be taken from
  8. What criteria will be used to identify which CCTV to use in the trial
  9. Where images for the “watchlist”/matching will be taken from
  10. What the criteria will be for selecting images for the “watchlist”/matching
  11. What human rights impact assessment has been done (please provide a copy)
  12. What privacy impact assessment has been done (please provide a copy)
  13. What assessment has been done of potential bias within the facial recognition program (i.e. reduced accuracy against women and people of colour) (please provide a copy)
  14. What public consultation has taken place or will take place
  15. Whether Kent Police are currently using or trialling, or intend to use or trial, any other form of facial recognition


Please find attached our response.

In addition to the attached response, West Midlands Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information relevant to this request as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemptions:

Section 24(2) – National security

Section 31(3) – Law enforcement

These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:

In line with the above, I am required to complete a Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure for Section 24 and Section 31.

Overall Harm for the NCND

Any disclosure under FOI is a release to the public at large. Whilst not questioning the motives of the applicant, confirming or denying that any other information relating to the covert practice of facial recognition would show criminals what the capacity, tactical abilities and capabilities of the force are, allowing them to target specific areas of the UK to conduct their criminal/terrorist activities.

Public Interest Test

S24 Factors Favouring Confirmation or Denial

It is well established that police forces use covert tactics and surveillance to gain intelligence in order to counteract criminal behaviour. It has been previously documented in the media that many terrorist incidents have been thwarted due to intelligence gained by these means.

S31 Factors Favouring Confirmation or Denial

Confirming or denying the specific circumstances in which the Police Service may or may not deploy the use of facial recognition would lead to an increase of harm to covert investigations and compromise law enforcement. This would be to the detriment of providing an efficient policing service and a failure in providing a duty of care to all members of the public.

S24 Factors against Confirming or Denying

Confirming or denying whether any information is or isn’t held relating to the covert use of facial recognition technology would limit operational capabilities as criminals/terrorist would gain a greater understanding of the police’s methods and techniques, enabling offenders to take steps to counter them. It may also suggest the limitations of police capabilities in this area, which may further encourage criminal/terrorist activity by exposing potential vulnerabilities. This detrimental effect is increased if the request is made to several different law enforcement bodies. In addition to the local criminal fraternity now being better informed, those intent on organised crime throughout the UK will be able to ‘map’ where the use of certain tactics are or are not deployed. This can be useful information to those committing crimes. It would have the likelihood of identifying location-specific operations, which would ultimately compromise police tactics, operations and future prosecutions as criminals could counteract the measures used against them.

Any information identifying the focus of policing activity could be used to the advantage of terrorists or criminal organisations. Information that undermines the operational integrity of these activities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on both National Security and Law Enforcement.

S31 Factors against Confirming or Denying

The threat from terrorism cannot be ignored. It is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable. Since 2006, the UK Government has published the threat level, based upon current intelligence and that threat has remained at the second highest level ‘severe’, except for two short periods during August 2006, June and July 2007, and more recently in May and June last year following the Manchester and London terrorist attacks, when it was raised to the highest threat, ‘critical’. The UK continues to face a sustained threat from violent extremists and terrorists and the current threat level is set at ‘severe’.

Balance Test

The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve. The security of the country is of paramount importance and West Midlands Police force will not divulge whether any other information is or is not held if to do so would place the safety of an individual at risk, compromise law enforcement or undermine National Security.

Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and providing assurance that West Midlands Police force is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat from terrorists, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in this highly sensitive area.

There is also no requirement to satisfy any public concern over the legality of police operations and the tactics we may or may not use. The force is already held to account by independent bodies such as The Office of the Surveillance Commissioner and The Interception of Communications Commissioners Office. These inspections assess each constabulary’s compliance with the legislation and a full report is submitted to the Prime Minister and Scottish Ministers containing statistical information. Our accountability, therefore, is not enhanced by confirming or denying that any other information is held.

It is for these reasons that the Public Interest must favour neither confirming nor denying that any other information is held. However, this should not be taken as necessarily indicating that any other information that would meet your request does or does not exist

No inference can be taken from this refusal that any further information relevant to your request does or does not exist.