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Date Responded 13 August 2018

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')

As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held at the time of a request, by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.

You asked:

1.In the 2017 calendar year how many events were policed by your force where live facial recognition software was used to identify people? Please provide the date of these events and a description of what they were.

2.For each event please state how many matches the software obtained where it linked a face being recorded with a known person on a police database.

3.In the 2017 calendar year on how many occasions did your force use facial recognition software in an attempt to identify people from CCTV recordings?

4.When using the software to scan recordings how many matches did the software obtain where it linked a face that had been recorded with a known person on a police database. 

In Response:

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention. 

I can confirm that the information you have requested is not held by Northumbria Police. We have not used this technology at events. 

Additionally, Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny whether it holds any further information in relation to any covert use of facial recognition and in doing so we shall rely on the following exemptions. 

Section 24(2) National Security and S31(3) Law Enforcement. 

Section 24 and Section 31 are qualified exemptions and as such there is a requirement to evidence any harm confirmation or denial that any other information is held as well as consider the public interest. 

Evidence of harm

Confirming or denying that any other information relating to the covert practise of facial recognition would show criminals what the capacity, tactical abilities and capabilities of the force are, allowing them to target specific areas of the UK to conduct their criminal/terrorist activities.  Confirming or denying the specific circumstances in which the Police Service may or may not deploy the use of facial recognition would lead to an increase of harm to covert investigations and compromise law enforcement.  This would be to the detriment of providing an efficient policing service and a failure in providing a duty of care to all members of the public.

The threat from terrorism cannot be ignored.  It is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable.  Since 2006, the UK Government has published the threat level, based upon current intelligence and that threat has remained at the second highest level ‘severe’, except for two short periods during August 2006, June and July 2007, and more recently in May and June this year following the Manchester and London terrorist attacks, when it was raised to the highest threat, ‘critical’.   The UK continues to face a sustained threat from violent extremists and terrorists and the current threat level is set at ‘severe’.

It is well established that police forces use covert tactics and surveillance to gain intelligence in order to counteract criminal behaviour.  It has been previously documented in the media that many terrorist incidents have been thwarted due to intelligence gained by these means.  

Factors favouring confirmation or denial

The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and by confirming or denying that this information is held would allow the public to see where money is being spent and know that forces are doing as much as they can to combat terrorism.  To confirm or deny that this information is held would make members of the public aware of the threat of terrorism and allow them to take steps to protect themselves and families.  Improved public awareness may lead to more intelligence being submitted to police about possible acts of terrorism as members of the public will be more observant to suspicious activity which in turn may result in a reduction of crime. 

To confirm or deny that any other information relating to the covert practise of facial recognition was held would make members of the public more aware of the threat of terrorism and allow them to take steps to protect themselves and families.  Improved public awareness may lead to more intelligence being submitted to police about possible acts of terrorism as members of the public will be more observant to suspicious activity which in turn may result in a reduction of crime. 

Factors against neither confirming or denying

The disclosure whether this information is or is not held would render security measures less effective which would compromise on-going or future operations to protect the security and infrastructure of the UK.  The risk of harm to the public would be elevated, if areas of the UK which appear vulnerable were identified which would also provide the opportunity for terrorist planning.  On-going or future operations to protect the security and infrastructure of the UK would be compromised as terrorists could map the level of counter-terrorist activity across the country, providing them with the knowledge of individual force capability. 

Confirming or denying whether any information is or isn’t held relating to the covert use of facial recognition technology would limit operational capabilities as criminals/terrorist would gain a greater understanding of the police’s methods and techniques, enabling offenders to take steps to counter them.  It may also suggest the limitations of police capabilities in this area, which may further encourage criminal/terrorist activity by exposing potential vulnerabilities.  This detrimental effect is increased if the request is made to several different law enforcement bodies.  In addition to the local criminal fraternity now being better informed, those intent on organised crime throughout the UK will be able to ‘map’ where the use of certain tactics are or are not deployed.  This can be use information to those committing crimes. It would have the likelihood of identifying location-specific operations which would ultimately compromise police tactics, operations and future prosecutions as criminals could counteract the measures used against them. 

To confirm or deny that the requested information is held would compromise law enforcement tactics which would hinder the Police force’s ability to prevent and detect terrorist crimes.  The threat of terrorism will increase as more crimes are committed as a result of terrorists gaining knowledge about the capabilities of individual forces and therefore the public will be placed at a greater risk.  A fear of crime will be realised as terrorists identify vulnerable areas and target and exploit these areas resulting in the public being in fear of more terrorist activity occurring. When a fear of crime is realised, the public may decide to take matters into their own hands, leading to victimisation, discrimination and ultimately other crime to occur.  There would be an impact on police resources,  as forces may need to increase their resources to reassure and protect the surrounding community. 

Balancing test

The security of the country is of paramount importance.  The police will not divulge any information that would  undermine national security.  Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing, and in this case providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by terrorist activity, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in the highly sensitive subject of terrorism.

Any information identifying the focus of policing activity could be used to the advantage of terrorists or criminal organisations.  Information that undermines the operational integrity of these activities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on both National Security and Law Enforcement.

As much as there is a public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced in matters of national security this will be overridden in exceptional circumstances.  Police force’s capabilities of combating terrorism are sensitive issues of intelligence value to the terrorist and therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or denying that this information is held, is not made out. 

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