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04 August 2015
Hundreds of Police Scotland records examined as part of facial search review

Hundreds of Police Scotland records examined as part of facial search review

Hundreds of instances in which Scottish police made use of facial search software to identify suspected criminals are to be revisited as a part of a review of the technology.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) will audit around 500 records of Police Scotland’s use of a UK-wide police database to check whether facial searches carried out comply with legislation.

The software, which was introduced last year, allows forces throughout the UK to search mugshots – including images of people not yet convicted – and to check against CCTV records or other images obtained by police.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice backed a review of how the technology is being used north of the border before summer recess amid pressure from the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
It is envisaged HMICS, which has now published terms of reference for the work, will complete the review by the end of next month.

The review will consider the statutory framework that underpins police use of images and facial search technologies as well as oversight arrangements that are in place.

Images of charged and convicted individuals held by Police Scotland are automatically uploaded to the UK Police National Database (PND) for other forces across the UK to check against, though photos are removed if the suspect is not then convicted.

However, the PND facial search technology has been the subject of controversy in recent months with the UK Biometrics Commissioner raising concerns over the lack of an appropriate regulatory regime accompanying its use by forces in England and Wales.

Inspectors will assess use of the technology by a “limited selection” of forces in England and Wales to identify differences either side of the border.

It will also look at instances “pointing to the success or otherwise” of facial search technologies after police said its use is helping tackle crime. 

It is understood Police Scotland used the PND for facial searches on 494 occasions between starting to use the technology in 2014 and May of this year.

Findings published based on HMICS’ audit will be “sanitised” to ensure sensitive information and intelligence is not compromised, according to their terms of reference.

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