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Facial Recognition Software - 1044/21

Date Responded 09 September 2021

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:

I'm writing to you under the freedom of information act (2000) to ask whether your force / authority use facial recognition software in video cameras/CCTV cameras, or any other compatible device, both portable or static. Specifically, both Live Facial Recognition (LfR) or Automated Facial Recognition (AfR) software, from 2016- 2021.

1. I'd like to know about any trials or active contracts of facial recognition software.

2. I'd like to know which company / companies have been used / are being used.

3. I'd like to know the cost of this, either as a trial for the whole period it ran for, or the ongoing cost of it year by year.


In Response:

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

With regards to overt use:

We have not used, evaluated and/or trialled, or are in the process of evaluating and or/trialling any such technology specific to your request. The response to points 1 – 3 is therefore no information held.

With regards to covert use of such technology, we shall neither confirm nor deny any information is held by virtue of the following exemptions:

S24(2) National Security
S31(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 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.

Confirming or denying whether any information is or isn’t held relating to any 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.


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