Tech Tent: Do the police have your biometric digits?


Facial recognition.


Police are testing facial recognition systems

Campaign group Big Brother Watch claims that many people who have been wrongly identified by police facial recognition systems still end up in police databases, despite their innocence.

On the Tech Tent podcast this week, we hear about growing concerns that governments and law enforcement agencies are collecting biometric data at the expense of privacy.

Det Supt Bernie Galopin, from the Metropolitan Police, says any misidentification tends to be quickly recognised and dealt with by police officers at the scene.

“It’s technology that’s assisting the police here, not the police assisting technology,” he said.

“We have not had a single complaint from a member of the public [about misidentification].”

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But what happens with the data after the event?

Politician Norman Lamb, who chairs the British government’s science and technology select committee, says people can apply to have their image removed from police records. It seems not many appear to do so.

“There is significant doubt as to whether people are made aware of that right,” he says.

“The number of those who apply appears to be very low… and a significant portion of those who do apply are informed that their application has been rejected.”

One issue is that current legislation only covers DNA and fingerprints.

But biometrics commissioner Prof Paul Wiles says we should not expect any swift changes to the law.

“Everybody knows that this country at the moment is totally focused on leaving the European Union and until that is finished… I don’t think the government seems to have much appetite for anything very much,” he explains.

Also on the podcast this week:

  • can IBM’s new tool shed light on how algorithms make their decisions?
  • we hear from an engineer who has been on the road to driverless cars from the very beginning
  • Stream or download the latest Tech Tent podcast