Move to use software capable of facial recognition prompts concerns over privacy and the introduction of bias

Artificial intelligence software capable of interpreting images, matching faces and analysing patterns of communication is being piloted by UK police forces to speed up examination of mobile phones seized in crime investigations.

Cellebrite, the Israeli-founded and now Japanese-owned company behind some of the software, claims a wider rollout would solve problems over failures to disclose crucial digital evidence that have led to the collapse of a series of rape trials and other prosecutions in the past year. However, the move by police has prompted concerns over privacy and the potential for software to introduce bias into processing of criminal evidence.

As police and lawyers struggle to cope with the exponential rise in data volumes generated by phones and laptops in even routine crime cases, the hunt is on for a technological solution to handle increasingly unmanageable workloads. Some forces are understood to have backlogs of up to six months for examining downloaded mobile phone contents.

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