London police chief calls for AI legal framework

The Metropolitan Police started using live facial recognition in January

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) by the police force should be specified by a legal guideline, according to Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick.

The UK's top-ranking member of the police called on the government to create a legal framework for police use of new technologies such as AI, biometrics and DNA.

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She told reporters that “the best way to ensure that the police use new and emerging tech in a way that has the country’s support is for the government to bring in an enabling legislative framework that is debated through Parliament, consulted on in public and which will outline the boundaries for how the police should or should not use tech”.

The news comes after the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published a study over the weekend calling for frameworks to ensure that data analytics, AI and computer algorithms used by the police force were developed "legally and ethically". 

Last year, a report by the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) claimed that UK police are wary of the possibility that the lack of consistent guidelines for automated technology has a potential to "amplify" prejudices.

The main reason for the demands for “crucial” oversight of police AI use is the risk of discrimination. Although Dick agrees that legal frameworks are needed, she disagreed with critics that facial recognition algorithms are racially discriminatory:

“We know there are some cheap algorithms that do have ethnic bias but, as I’ve said, ours doesn’t and currently the only bias in it is that it shows it is slightly harder to identify a wanted woman than a wanted man,” said the police commissioner. The Metropolitan Police’s facial recognition technology is reportedly provided by NEC.

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Last month, the Metropolitan Police started using live facial recognition (LFR) on the streets of London. The decision was slammed by privacy campaigners and called a "serious threat to civil liberties".

“Give us the law and we’ll work within it,” Dick told reporters.

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