Posted on September 4, 2018 by staff

Britain ‘not a dictatorship yet’ but must address biometrics


Two biometric experts have told BusinessCloud the government must take a harder line against data privacy and facial recognition.

Tech entrepreneur James Wickes and academic Andrew Charlesworth were responding to the government’s recently published biometric strategy, in which it addressed issues including facial recognition.

The long-awaited report has been criticised for failing to make any strong recommendations on the future use of biometrics and how that will be governed.

Wickes is chief executive and co-founder of visual data platform CloudView. He told BusinessCloud that technology which threatens citizens’ privacy already exists and cannot now be reversed – but says it could also help improve data privacy.

“There was no vision in that paper,” he said. “The government was just too timid to say that facial recognition is a positive thing. We just need to make sure it’s used in a positive way.

“Britain is not yet a dictatorship, it is a democracy and we need to find ways of making tech like this work within a democracy.”

Andrew Charlesworth, director of the Centre for IT and Law at the University of Bristol, says we first need a clearer idea of how to transition from the legacy technology – which is around 20 years old in the case of CCTV – to the new era of technology.

“How do we move from a position where we have a clunky approach to managing things like image data and automated facial recognition in an orderly fashion?” he asked.

“That report has been five years in the making and I genuinely don’t know what they’ve been doing for five years because it reads like a collection of statements that the government have put out over the last few years cobbled together.”

Wickes believes the government is terrified of upsetting people at both ends of the spectrum – those that think technologies like facial recognition should be banned and those that think it should be embraced.

“They can’t say anything right, to be fair to them,” he said. “What they should have done is at least pointed towards some guidelines. The tech itself is not the problem, it’s the use of the tech that’s the problem.”

Cloudview’s technology is helping to tackle this by plugging into existing or new CCTV cameras and bringing back the data into a secure, cloud-based central account.

“It allows you to use visual data more effectively but without impinging on people’s privacy,” said Wickes.

“I was at a security show recently and CCTV was centre stage. There were about 20 Chinese camera manufacturers there and all of them were doing facial recognition.

“At some point someone registered a complaint with the ICO about data misuse because Chinese companies’ attitudes to privacy are completely different to ours.

“They don’t have a problem with it and their tech is currently dominating market in this area so there has to be a way to bring all this together and be able to switch on and off that functionality.”

He gives the examples of CCTV outside a women’s refuge where a facial recognition camera is on the front door of the premises.

“The system will open the gate when it recognises the women staying there only and if anyone else comes along then the system will then send an alert through to security.”

The pair say that the government claims many of the problems with the way image and data privacy is currently handled comes from its underlying systems.

“It makes it very difficult to control and delete images once they’re entered into the system and again it’s something where tech should be able to help,” said Charlesworth.

“The government says it’s not that they don’t want to have compliant databases, it’s simply the fact that the existing tech isn’t capable of doing what we require.

“So newer CCTV tech could help with the storage, processing and deletion in line with standard data handling practices under GDPR. Image data is still data that needs to be protected and controlled in the same way as other personal data.”