Data protection watchdog issues clarifications on use of facial recognition technology by police

The Office for Personal Data Protection (GPDP) has issued a statement looking to clarify misconceptions concerning facial recognition technology to be installed by police authorities in surveillance cameras.

Police authorities plan to install 2,400 video surveillance cameras in total in six phases by 2023, with 200 cameras to have facial and license plate recognition capabilities.

The first 50 cameras with facial recognition technology will be installed and tested until the end of the first quarter of 2020.

According to the GPDP, the ‘facial recognition system’ definition refers only to application software and peripheral devices that aim to apply facial recognition technology to identify individuals, and not to an independent and comprehensive information processing system which has as its core the collection of facial recognition data for different purposes.

The data privacy watchdog noted that police authorities had previously presented various programs for consideration in their surveillance plan, with some approved by the GPDP but others rejected or altered.

However, the department stated that the main purpose of implementing facial recognition technology in ‘Eye in the Sky’ cameras is to assist police authorities in three main areas.

‘If you have data from someone, their location can be fixed on the recorded images. For example, if there is a defendant confirmed after a robbery occurs, one can find out where the defendant appeared and the corresponding time using face recognition technology,’ the department noted.

The identity of any accused person can also be verified, so when images of an accused were taken from the video surveillance system after a robbery, it can be used to identify, by comparison, the accused in a group of suspicious people that police authorities had gathered.

The technology can also be used to analyze recorded images to find a person whose frequency of appearance in a particular location where a crime took place is abnormally high, leading the operator to examine whether the defendant could have been preparing such criminal act.

According to the GPDP, all these functions were previously conducted by officers looking and comparing surveillance footage, and the technology could improve work efficiency, save human resources, and provide operators with indications through software analysis to assist with analysis and consideration.

However, the department underlined that the technology will not ‘completely replace’ the work of the guards, nor their professional judgment.

The GPDP also emphasised that although face recognition technology needs to look completely at the facial features of all people appearing in recorded images, it only gives indications in situations that match the matching requirements and deletes personal data that does not meet the matching requirements immediately after.

This procedure would be in accordance with the legislation regulating surveillance in public areas enforced in 2012 so that the purposes of data processing are not altered, and the rights of data subjects are guaranteed.