There needs to be a “wider public debate” about the use of facial recognition and “how CCTV is used”, Thames Valley’s police and crime commissioner has said.

Due to the increasing pace of technological change and new questions about artificial intelligence, the county’s police and crime commissioner Matthew Barber has said it is about time that ways the police could use facial recognition are debated.

Mr Barber has said the technology could be used to “spot individuals of concern” at live events and to seek out terrorists.

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Mr Barber revealed exclusively to the Oxford Mail that he was working to build a CCTV partnership between the police and local authorities.

Speaking about how the police could use facial recognition, Mr Barber said: “If the suspect is a wanted terrorist at a public event our attitude may be very different to looking out for someone with no previous convictions.

Mr Barber said discussions with people when out and about have led him to believe that facial recognition could be used to aid investigations.

He said: “Many people I talk to are comfortable with the principle of using AI and facial recognition on historic footage, as part of a criminal investigation.

“Britain has a love-hate relationship with CCTV.

“It is widely acknowledged that we are one of the most watched populations in the world, yet many of us are so comfortable with the concept that we stick a camera on our front door.”

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In Mr Barber's report to the Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel, it stated the "long term vision is for CCTV across Thames Valley to be provided by Thames Valley Police".

Provision of CCTV is currently mixed, with each local policing area and local authority working together to provide CCTV as a joint approach.


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However, Mr Barber did not deny that facial recognition technology could raise new ‘Big Brother’ concerns about the police’s use of such data, and he said the “challenge” was that the answer “lies somewhere in the middle”.

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Despite the complexities involved in discussing the benefits and risks of using artificial intelligence and facial recognition, Mr Barber said he did not believe this discussion should be restricted to professionals.

The police’s use of live facial recognition is restricted to special operations such as football matches or the coronation.

The use of facial recognition at the coronation led to one arrest from 68,000 faces scanned, new figures from the Metropolitan Police have shown.

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The Metropolitan Police data confirms there were no false alerts, and the police did not say what the arrest was for.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The government is committed to empower the police to use new technologies like facial recognition in a fair and proportionate way.

“Facial recognition plays a crucial role in helping the police tackle serious offences including murder, knife crime, rape, child sexual exploitation and terrorism.”

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