Police use of facial recognition technology is coming under the scrutiny of Holyrood’s Justice Subcommittee on Policing, which is calling for the public's views as it launches a new inquiry.

MSPs want to find out more about police use and future plans in relation to this fast-evolving tool, which is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Facial recognition technology can either be "live" or "retrospective". It is understood that Police Scotland currently use retrospective facial recognition technology from recorded CCTV, which is matched against faces in the police national database. It is not currently clear whether other policing organisations, such as the British Transport Police or the National Crime Agency use either form of facial recognition in Scotland.

In addition to CCTV, images which could be used for facial recognition can now come from body-worn cameras and potentially mobile phones.

Among the issues the committee would like to consider are: 

  • the type of facial recognition technology used by the police service, the circumstances in which it is used, and any implications;
  • the purpose of using facial recognition technology, for example, Police Scotland’s practice of sharing images with UK police forces through the police national database, which has a facial search facility;
  • any data protection, security and retention implications, and the equalities and human rights implications of the use of the technology, either by Police Scotland or private sector entities on their behalf;
  • the legal and regulatory basis that Police Scotland rely on; and
  • the oversight, governance and transparency of police use of the technology.

Convener John Finnie MSP commented: "Facial recognition could be a useful tool for police in fighting crime and keeping communities safe.

"However, it should not be forgotten that this technology is invasive to citizens’ privacy. The human rights and legal implications of using facial recognition need to be understood.

"The subcommittee wants to be reassured that police services are striking the right balance when using this technology. We have a number of concerns we look forward to exploring further in the months ahead." 

Click here to read the call for views. The deadline for responses is 1 November 2019.