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Facial Recognition Services - 136/20

Date Responded 12 February 2020

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:

Specifically, I would like information on:

  1. Whether your police force uses the services of Clearview AI, the US company that maintains a database of more than 3 billion images to check against ( If so, please provide how long your police force has been using the service, for which purposes and how much money the contract is for.
  2. Whether your police force uses the services of Palantir Technologies, or any of its subsidiaries (Gotham and/or Metropolis, and its acquired companies such as Kimonolabs, Inc., Silk, FT Technologies, Inc., Propeller Inc., Markover Inc., Silk Co). If so, please provide how long your police force has been using the service, for which purposes and how much money the contract is for.
  3. Which other facial recognition services your police force uses in order to identify potential criminal suspects. Please list these by the amount of money the contracts are for, and how long they have been in use.

In Response:

Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the ICT and Procurement Departments of Northumbria Police.  I can confirm that the information you have requested is not held by Northumbria Police.

With regards to all points of your request we hold no information in relation to the above mentioned companies or the use of facial recognition technology for overt policing.

With regards to the use of facial recognition technology for covert policing, we shall neither confirm nor deny any information is held and by doing so rely on the following exemptions:

Section 24(2) National Security

Section 31(3) Law Enforcement

Any disclosure under FOI is a release to the public at large.  Whilst not questioning the motives of the applicant, 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 last year following the Manchester and London terrorist attacks and the very recent attacks in London, 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.

Confirming or denying whether any information is or is not 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.

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.

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