UK Police to be able to run AI face recognition searches on all driving licence holders

The police will be able to run facial recognition searches on a database containing images of Britain’s 50 million driving licence holders under a law change being quietly introduced by the government.

Should the police wish to put a name to an image collected on CCTV, or shared on social media, the legislation would provide them with the powers to search driving licence records for a match.

The move, contained in a single clause in a new criminal justice bill, could put every driver in the country in a permanent police lineup, according to privacy campaigners.


The intention to allow the police or the National Crime Agency (NCA) to exploit the UK’s driving licence records is not explicitly referenced in the bill or in its explanatory notes, raising criticism from leading academics that the government is “sneaking it under the radar”.

Once the criminal justice bill is enacted, the home secretary, James Cleverly, must establish “driver information regulations” to enable the searches, but he will need only to consult police bodies, according to the bill.

Critics claim facial recognition technology poses a threat to the rights of individuals to privacy, freedom of expression, non-discrimination and freedom of assembly and association.

Police are increasingly using live facial recognition, which compares a live camera feed of faces against a database of known identities, at major public events such as protests.

Prof Peter Fussey, a former independent reviewer of the Met’s use of facial recognition, said there was insufficient oversight of the use of facial recognition systems, with ministers worryingly silent over studies that showed the technology was prone to falsely identifying black and Asian faces.


The EU had considered making images on its member states’ driving licence records available on the Prüm crime fighting database. The proposal was dropped earlier this year as it was said to represent a disproportionate breach of privacy.


Carole McCartney, a professor of law and criminal justice at the University of Leicester, said the lack of consultation over the change in law raised questions over the legitimacy of the new powers.

She said: “This is another slide down the ‘slippery slope’ of allowing police access to whatever data they so choose – with little or no safeguards. Where is the public debate? How is this legitimate if the public don’t accept the use of the DVLA and passport databases in this way?”

The government scrapped the role of the commissioner for the retention and use of biometric material and the office of surveillance camera commissioner this summer, leaving ministers without an independent watchdog to scrutinise such legislative changes.


In 2020, the court of appeal ruled that South Wales police’s use of facial recognition technology had breached privacy rights, data protection laws and equality laws, given the risk the technology could have a race or gender bias.

The force has continued to use the technology. Live facial recognition is to be deployed to find a match of people attending Christmas markets this year against a watchlist.

Katy Watts, a lawyer at the civil rights advocacy group Liberty said: “This is a shortcut to widespread surveillance by the state and we should all be worried by it.”

Source: Police to be able to run face recognition searches on 50m driving licence holders | Facial recognition | The Guardian

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