British police build a database of portrait photos for facial recognition
The British police are creating the first national database with hundreds of thousands of mugshots, in order to locate criminals using facial recognition via surveillance cameras. Police in Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Merseyside initiated the pilot project in November 2006, under the name Facial Images National Database (FIND) with 750,000 photos. It includes photos of people who have been arrested for criminal activity.
Peter Neyroud, head of the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), reported in a hearing before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on the "surveillance society", that this database for facial recognition is only one element of "a technological revolution" for the police. By 2012, according to a Guardian report, Neyroud hopes to equip beat officers with new mobile computers in order to take and transmit fingerprints on location, download mugshots and information and access images from surveillance cameras.
So far, only three police divisions can populate the database with photos and they can only search in their own areas for photos that match images from surveillance cameras. By 2009, however, a national database is intended to be set up to allow all police stations to enter and search for mugshots and photographs of tattoos, scars and other distinctive physical features. The goal is an automated search. But Neyroud considers that to be in the distant future because tests have shown that facial recognition programs are not yet reliable.
Apart from this, there is a plan to further develop and install programs for surveillance cameras that can recognise suspicious behaviour. These would be well-suited to the war against terror and street crime. In Great Britain there is one surveillance camera for every 14 people. Neyroud stated, "...we are now accustomed to our movements being monitored in this way and for most people this is not an issue." Home Office minister Tony McNulty sees it the same way. He told the committee that the fear of becoming a surveillance society is nothing but a myth. Surveillance is strictly regulated.
The Home Office is currently in talks with the Information Commissioner to determine whether security forces throughout the country should be allowed access to images from all of the surveillance cameras in order to investigate terror suspects. Currently this requires a court order.