Throughout 2023, the UK government and law enforcement have made significant efforts to introduce more digital solutions into policing. These include the use of hyperscale public cloud infrastructure, facial-recognition technologies, and integrated record management systems.
However, Computer Weekly’s coverage has shed light on the controversies surrounding these deployments. Many of them have faced issues related to data protection and a lack of transparency and oversight. For instance, in April, Computer Weekly exposed potential unlawful data processing and storage by Police Scotland in its cloud-based digital evidence sharing system, leading to regulatory action.
Computer Weekly’s reporting has also highlighted concerns regarding the widespread use of facial-recognition and biometric data in policing. Despite government assurances, there is still a lack of clear oversight and frameworks in this area.
In one instance, Computer Weekly revealed that Police Scotland was piloting a cloud-based digital evidence-sharing system, despite significant data protection concerns raised by watchdogs. The system’s problems included potential US government access through the Cloud Act and contractual issues related to data sovereignty.
As a result of Computer Weekly’s coverage, the Scottish biometrics commissioner served Police Scotland with a formal information notice, requiring them to demonstrate compliance with data protection rules.
Computer Weekly has also covered the suspension of live facial recognition technology by Newham Council, calling for improved biometric regulations and anti-discrimination safeguards.
The reporting further highlighted the need for clear frameworks to regulate police use of AI and biometrics, addressing issues of transparency and accountability. Concerns were raised about the potential retrospective use of facial recognition technology to locate witnesses and the ongoing unlawful retention of custody images by the Home Office.
Computer Weekly also uncovered budget overruns and teething problems with the Met Police’s integrated record management system. The publication questioned the level of engagement between the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the police in addressing data protection issues.
Additionally, Computer Weekly reported on the policing minister’s proposal to link the UK’s passport database with facial recognition systems, which was criticized as unethical and potentially unlawful.
Throughout the year, there were announcements and trials of facial-recognition tools by UK police forces. The National Police Chief’s Council revealed plans for nationwide rollout and increased use of retrospective facial recognition software.
In December, the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee heard from senior police officers about the accuracy and benefits of facial recognition technology. Concerns were raised about the use of generic “crime categories” to determine targets, rather than justifying each entry based on specific circumstances.
Overall, Computer Weekly’s coverage has brought attention to the contentious issues surrounding the introduction of digital technologies in policing, and the need for robust regulations, transparency, and oversight.