The Last Word - Facial Recognition Technology

Thursday 06 June 2024 -

Last month saw the first ever British Standard code of practice that focuses on the ethical use and deployment of facial recognition technology (FRT), developed on recommendations by the BSIA released by the British Standards Institute (BSI). The code of practice, Facial recognition technology - Ethical use and deployment in video surveillance-based systems – Code of practice (BS 9347:2024) - has been developed by the BSI, in its role as the UK National Standards Body, to allay concerns by helping organisations build public trust with its proliferation prompting concerns about safe and ethical use. 


The BSIA’s leadership on the issue began in 2020 with the setting up of a Special Interest Group dedicated to the issue, publishing the industry-first ethical and legal guide on facial recognition, Facial Recognition Technology: A Guide to ethical and legal use  This was the first guide of its kind, following recommendations on responsible use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and encompassed useful terms and abbreviations, ethical uses, and more. The guide had a specific focus on distinctive application types verification (is it you?) and identification (who is it?) and was designed for both industry experts and the general public to understand the framework, whilst matching key messaging with that of the UK Government’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner, with its aim to ensure FRT does not cause harm or discriminate against any persons in either a public or private setting.  Having been acknowledged by UK Government, this guidance was the initial template for developing the new standard; being at the forefront of its creation, we are pleased to see this major world-first code of practice being released. The use of FRT has not come without its own challenges, whether that has been down to the accuracy of the technology, or how and where it is deployed. 


So what does this groundbreaking standard in such a fast moving environment hope to achieve? The standard, written for the industry, by the industry, will now allow the legal and ethical usage of this technology advancement in improving the safety and security of people, property and places.  Addressing the ethical challenges faced by those using AI technology, its foundation is based on six overarching AI principles of  ‘trustworthiness’, namely governance and accountability, human agency and oversight, privacy and data governance, technical robustness and safety, transparency and explainability, diversity, non-discrimination, and fairness. The origin of the principles of trustworthiness comes from the OECD, EU, and alignment with UK AI Regulatory principles. The standard sets out to build trust with those that develop, use, and are subject to its use. It is applicable to the whole supply chain, beginning with an assessment to determine the need to use FRT, to its procurement, installation, and appropriate and continued use of the technology. To avoid confusion, the standard also provides a clear delineation between the types of FRT deployment. 


Upon release of the guide, our Chair of the BSIA’s AI & Biometrics Special Interest Group, Pauline Norstrom, highlighted the importance of understanding that the FRT code of practice is different to other standards for AI and biometrics, as ‘a non-technical code of practice that operationalises the principles for trustworthy AI (ethical AI) through the entire value chain making it easy for industry to implement transparently with clear governance and accountability, and arguably with potentially lower impacts, risks and costs…crucially, the standard contains a metaphorical ‘stop button’ to cease use if impacts cannot be mitigated. It also frames FRT as an AI technology which aligns with the definition of AI in international standards and new or pending regulation.’

Over the years, many relevant questions have been asked by privacy groups, industry stakeholders and other interested parties on the appropriate and proportionate use of such technology; as an Association, we are confident that this code of practice will instill trustworthiness in the use of FRT by setting out key principles covering the whole process from assessing the need to use it, to ensuring its continued operation remains fit for purpose and justified. It is no exaggeration to say that the release of the code of practice is a significant moment in the journey towards the ethical use of this AI biometric technology in this country; also as it is the first of its kind in the world, it shows that British Industry is leading the way in this work with a procedural standard written for developers, integrators, deployers and stakeholders of FRT.