Can we have trust in the Metropolitan Police if they can’t get their data tech duties right?

Can we have trust in the Metropolitan Police if they can’t get their data tech duties right?

Earlier this month, Sadiq Khan apologised to Green Party AM and London Mayor candidate Siân Berry for having previously provided inaccurate information in answer to her written question about whether the Metropolitan Police Service had ever used facial recognition data gathered by private sector companies.

The Mayor’s initial answer was that the Met had not. But six days later he corrected this, saying the Met had given incorrect information to his office for policing and crime (MOPAC). The true answer to Berry’s question was that the Met “have in fact shared images related to facial recognition with King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership”. The use of two cameras with FRT capability by the King’s Cross development’s owners had been previously discovered by the Financial Times.

Pursuing this at MQT, Berry was told by the Mayor that the failure arose due a lack of communication between the Met basic command unit (BCU) for the King’s Cross area and whoever at the Met was responsible for giving MOPAC the wrong facts. The Mayor confirmed that he is asking the Met, which has been contrite, to provide him with a report into how this happened. He said he would share it with Berry and other AMs when it is delivered later this month.

Perhaps this was all an unhappy one-off, but Berry widened the discussion. “This sort of local inconsistency within the police in terms of data sharing is also something we saw with the gangs matrix,” she said. “My real concern here, and why I tabled my original question [in July] is whether you and MOPAC are being pro-active enough and curious enough and getting ahead of these kind of human rights issues, before the Met stumbles into making mistakes like this”.

The Met’s running of its gangs matrix was slammed in an Information Commissioner’s report released last November following work by Amnesty International, which Berry supported. MOPAC responded with nine recommendations. But Berry’s point was that it should fall to the Mayor, who the capital’s de facto police and crime commissioner, and MOPAC, to which he delegates those responsibilities, to be on the case with the Met on these matters in the first place.

The Mayor assured her that he is alive to the issues, stressing that the Met had taken what he considers a proper approach to its own use of FRT by undertaking ten pilot schemes, now complete. But Berry’s efforts in this area also raise a broader and more basic question. If the Met cannot get the basics of data technology rights, duties and responsibilities right, how will they enjoy Londoners’ trust?

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Categories: Analysis

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