artificial intelligence
In a letter addressed to police chiefs, Philp emphasised the importance of harnessing innovative technologies to support law enforcement in preventing and solving crimes. Pixabay

The Policing Minister, Chris Philp, called upon police forces across England and Wales to double their use of retrospective facial recognition searches by May 2024.

The move is aimed at bolstering crime-fighting capabilities and maintaining public safety. This push for increased use of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled facial recognition technology is driven by a need to keep up with evolving criminal activities and effectively arrest known offenders.

In a letter addressed to police chiefs, Philp spoke about the importance of embracing innovative tech in an effort to back law enforcement in preventing and solving crimes.

He thinks that with a combined effort from all police forces, it is achievable to exceed 200,000 searches of still images against the Police National Database in early summer.

By identifying and catching criminals more effectively, this advanced use of facial recognition technology can play a big role in creating safer streets for communities.

Philp's directive also encourages police to expand the deployment of live facial recognition technology. This cutting-edge tool captures real-time footage of crowds and cross-references it with a watchlist of individuals wanted by law enforcement for posing threats to public safety. When a match is detected, nearby officers are immediately alerted, allowing for rapid suspect identification and serving as a deterrent for potential criminals.

One of the biggest benefits AI offers law enforcement is how quickly and accurately it can identify individuals involved in serious crimes or even find missing people. Plus it takes some work off the hands of officers freeing them to focus on complex investigations or engage more with communities.

Speaking about the use of AI in policing, Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp stated: "AI technology is a powerful tool for good, with huge opportunities to advance policing and cut crime. We are committed to making sure police have the systems they need to solve and prevent crimes, bring offenders to justice and protect the public."

Philp reiterated that facial recognition, including live facial recognition, has a sound legal basis, confirmed by the courts and has already played a crucial role in capturing numerous serious criminals, including those involved in murder and sexual offences. He emphasised that the goal is not just to acquire new technology but to stay ahead of criminals, deliver more effective policing and ultimately enhance public safety.

The efficacy of facial recognition technology has already been demonstrated in various cases. For instance, Craig Walters was swiftly apprehended in 2021 for attacking a woman, thanks to South Wales Police's use of CCTV footage to identify him. A murder suspect in Coventry was also captured after a member of the public's images from a nightclub matched a known individual.

The technology is not limited to solving violent crimes but also extends to tackling shoplifting, with the Retail Crime Action Plan offering guidance to retailers on how to provide comprehensive evidence for the police, including CCTV footage of incidents and images of shoplifters.

Live facial recognition technology has yielded successful outcomes, such as at the recent Arsenal vs. Tottenham North London Derby, where three wanted suspects, including one for sexual offences, was identified. Another sex offender was swiftly sent back to prison after being identified at the King's Coronation event.

To maintain transparency with the public, police will display notices in areas where live facial recognition is in use. In cases where the system does not make a match against the watchlist, the individual's data is immediately and automatically deleted. Those apprehended with the help of facial recognition will still face trial in the usual manner.

The accuracy of facial recognition technology has significantly improved. An independent study conducted by the National Physical Laboratory found that the algorithm used by the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police was 100 per cent accurate with still images and had a false alert rate of only 1 in 6,000 for live images.

Notably, there have been no false alerts this year over 25 deployments and there are no significant performance differences based on gender or ethnicity in the settings used by the police.

It is important to note that the use of facial recognition is strictly governed by data protection, equality and human rights laws and it can only be employed for policing purposes when it is deemed necessary and proportionate. The College of Policing offers clear guidelines on the use of live facial recognition, including the automatic deletion of a person's data if it does not match the watchlist of suspects.

In addition to facial recognition technology, the government has invested in tools that use AI to assist officers in identifying and grading child sexual abuse material more rapidly. These tools highlight images of interest for officers to focus on, expediting investigations and enabling the safeguarding of children while identifying offenders.

Furthermore, the government is supporting industry innovation to combat the threat posed by AI-generated child sexual abuse images, recognising that criminals are exploiting this technology. The UK and US issued a joint statement pledging to collaborate on the development of new solutions to combat the spread of AI-generated child sexual abuse imagery.

As part of its commitment to AI safety, the UK is hosting the first major global AI Safety Summit, supported by the Frontier AI Taskforce, which was created with £100 million in initial funding to lead the country's efforts in this area. This proactive stance reflects the government's recognition of the significant benefits and potential risks of AI technology in law enforcement.