UK says prison facial recognition technology and iris scanners deter smugglers


The UK has a serious problem with the prison system, and smuggling, including drugs, guns and cell phones, only compounds the problem.

A lack of funding, prison officers and dilapidated buildings are just part of what some have called a “collapse” of the UK penal system – a system in which there are around 40 to 50 incidents of violence per months, staff assaults, occasional murder, and a generally chaotic environment.

Prison officers are leaving in droves and those who remain are often greatly outnumbered by inmates – although there is now an ongoing effort to increase the number of staff.

As staff members try to maintain a certain level of control with the resources they have inside, outside, external influences make their jobs even more difficult.

According to the UK Department of Justice, current visitor control systems are inefficient and time consuming and can be circumvented by the use of false documents and identity documents. This, in turn, creates a path for contraband traffickers to enter prisons and hand over all forms of prohibited goods.

In order to tackle the problem and reduce the paper workload for employees, the ministry tested facial recognition and biometric technology in three prisons: HMP Lindholme, Hull and Humber.

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The trials took place quietly in December and January and included the use of three separate biometric technologies. IDscan is a system used to detect fake documents, while Facewatch is used to verify visitors “instantly using facial recognition technology” including face and iris scanning. This information is also accessible by other prisons and sends alerts when “people of interest” enter.

Tascent is the third technology on the list, a developer of biometric capabilities for mobile platforms.

The trial was considered a “success” as part of a “wider crackdown on drugs entering prisons”.

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“The machines highlight suspicious individuals, allowing staff to refuse entry and provide evidence that could be used in any further investigation by the prison administration or the police,” the justice ministry said. “This means that police and prison staff will be able to better target the activity of those seeking to bring drugs into prison, thereby disrupting their criminal networks.”

Some UK prisons use fingerprint readers, but most still rely on entry procedures with pen and paper. During the trial, however, the ministry said the introduction of biometrics has proven to be a “deterrent” to smugglers, with a trial location seeing a higher than usual “no show” rate. .

This, in itself, requires further study. Contraband traffickers may not be fully responsible for the increased no-show rate, given the use of biometrics and visitor data – while they are all presumed innocent – and the The potential storage of such biometric data may not have been acceptable. to guests, who have chosen to stay away during the trial period.

The experiment also met with severe criticism from privacy advocates. Big Brother Watch’s legal and political officer Griff Ferris said the public announcement regarding the trial was a “total shock to everyone.”

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“The government seeking public approval for facial recognition cameras in low-rights environments such as prisons is a staggering move as we know it is trying to market them as a mainstream surveillance tool as well.” Ferris added. “We are quite surprised that the government continues to take such an experimental approach to human rights.

Last year, prison staff made more than 23,000 drug seizures, an increase of around 4,000 cases from the previous year. The Prison Service is currently investigating how these and similar technologies could be used in prisons across the country.

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