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Facial recognition - 708/18

Date Responded 30 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. Does the force use the facial recognition technology available through the Police National Database (PND)?

2. Since the PND facial recognition technology was introduced (ie. for each of the last three years), how many facial recognition searches has the force carried out against the PND?

3. If possible, please list the sources of the images that were searched against the PND (eg. body-worn video, dash-cam, etc)

4. Does the force keep a record of how many of those facial recognition matches were correct? If so, please supply details.

5. For each of the last three years, how many requests have the Force’s officers and staff made (under the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000, or otherwise) to search Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram and Twitter for images and/or video footage? Please give figures for each company if possible. How many of these requests have been granted? 

After we sought clarity you confirmed that by ‘each of the last three years’ was calendar years 2015, 2016, 2017. 

In Response:

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

Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted within Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held in part by Northumbria Police. 

I am able to disclose the located information to you as follows. 

1. Yes

2. A total of 1791 searches were conducted for the years 2015-2017

3. No information held.  We do not keep records regarding this.

4. No information held.  We do not keep records regarding this. 

For question 5 we respond as below. 

Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds the information you requested in relation to overt use of facial recognition technology as the duty in s1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply, by virtue of the following exemptions: 

Section 23(5) Information relating to the Security bodies

Section 24(2) National Security

Section 30(3) Investigations

Section 31(3) Law enforcement 

Section 23 is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest. 

Overall harm 

In order to counter criminal and terrorist behaviour it is vital that the police and other agencies have the ability to work together, where necessary covertly, in order to obtain intelligence within current legislative frameworks to ensure the successful arrest and prosecution of those who commit or plan to commit acts of terrorism. In order to achieve this goal, it is vitally important that information sharing takes place with other police forces and security bodies within the UK and Internationally in order to support counter-terrorism measures in the fight to deprive international terrorist networks of their ability to commit crime. 

It should be recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable. The UK faces a serious and sustained threat from violent extremists and this threat is greater in scale and ambition than any of the terrorist threats in the past. 

Since 2006, the UK Government have 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 and June and July 2007, when it was raised to the highest threat ‘critical’. 

The Police Service is committed to demonstrating proportionality and accountability regarding surveillance techniques to the appropriate authorities. However, if the Police Service were to either confirm or deny that any other information exists, other covert surveillance tactics will either be compromised or significantly weakened. If the Police Service denies a tactic is used in one request but then exempts for another, requesters can determine the ‘exempt’ answer is in fact a technique used in policing.  The impact could undermine national security, any on-going investigations and any future investigations, as it would enable targeted individuals/groups to become surveillance aware. This would help subjects avoid detection, and inhibit the prevention and detection of crime. 

The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built and the police have a clear responsibility to prevent crime and arrest those responsible for committing crime or those that plan to commit crime. To do this the police require evidence and that evidence can come from a number of sources, some of which is obtained through covert means. Having obtained sufficient evidence offenders are charged with offences and placed before the courts. By confirming or denying that any other information pertinent to this request exists could directly influence the stages of that process, and jeopardise current investigations or prejudice law enforcement. 

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. 

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S24 –The public is entitled to know how public funds are spent and by confirming or denying that information relevant to the request exists could lead to a better-informed public that can take steps to protect themselves 

Factors against confirmation or denial for S24 – By confirming or denying that information relevant to the request exists would render security measures less effective. This could lead to the compromise of ongoing or future operations to protect the security or infra-structure of the UK and increase the risk of harm to the public. 

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S31 - By confirming or denying that information relevant to the request exists, would enable the public to see where public funds are being spent. Better public awareness may reduce crime or lead to more information from the public. The quality of public debate may also be enhanced. 

Factors against confirmation or denial for S31 - By confirming or denying that information relevant to the request exists, law enforcement tactics could be compromised which could hinder the prevention and detection of crime. More crime could be committed and individuals placed at risk. 

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S30 - By confirming or denying that information relevant to the request exists would enable the public to obtain satisfaction that all investigations are conducted properly and that their public money is well spent. 

Factors against confirmation or denial for S30 - By confirming or denying that information relevant to the request exists, would hinder the prevention or detection of crime, undermine the partnership approach to law enforcement , which would subsequently affect the force’s future law enforcement capabilities. 

Balance test - The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police Service will not divulge whether information is or is not held if to do so could undermine national security or compromise law enforcement. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and in this case providing assurance that the Police Service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by the criminal fraternity, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in this area. 

As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced in matters of national security this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances. Therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or denying whether any other information relevant to your request exists is not made out. 

There is also no requirement to satisfy any public concern over the legality of police operations and the tactics we may or may not use. The force is already held to account by independent bodies such as The Office of the Surveillance Commissioner and The Interception of Communications Commissioners Office. These inspections assess each constabulary’s compliance with the legislation and a full report is submitted to the Prime Minister and Scottish Ministers containing statistical information. Our accountability is therefore not enhanced by confirming or denying that any other information is held. 

None of the above can be viewed as an inference that any other information does or does not exist. 

Additionally, Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds the information you requested in relation to covert use of facial recognition technology in accordance with S24(2) and S31(3).  I respond as below. 

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 this FOI, 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.  

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. 

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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