Criminals hoping to smuggle drugs and contraband devices into UK prisons are being intimidated by trails of facial recognition technology, with one prison claiming high rates of visitor ‘no show’ once they advertised the tech would be in use.
Facial recognition and biometric technology was trialled at the beginning of the year in prisons HMP Hull, Humber and Lindholme.
Prison officers last year recorded more than 23,000 mobile phone and illegal drug seizures, a rise of nearly 4,000 on the previous year. UK intelligence officers have identified a trend where prison visitors are supplying contraband items to multiple prisons across the country.
While some prisons do use fingerprint and identify documentation checks these systems are often paper-based, which is slow and may not identify a visitor who has been in other prisons that day or week.
Justice Secretary David Gauke commented in a statement: “New technology is vital in our fight against the gangs that seek to cause chaos in prisons, and this biometric equipment has the potential to significantly aid our efforts.”
Biometric and Prison Facial Recognition Technology In Use
Using the new security systems prison officers were able to identify suspicious individuals who then could be refused entry into the prison, but the data collected may also act as a source of evidence in further investigations in and outside of the prison.
The biometrics and facial recognition technology trialled at the prisons employs document validation by UK-based IDScan and facial recognition software developed by London-based Facewatch. The prisons also trialled iris scanning technology designed by Tascent an American biometric security and identification enterprise.
In HMP Humber prison officers scanned the faces of 770 visitors over a six-week period in order to identify those using fake ID’s or making multiple trips to see different inmates.
It was in this prison that officers recorded incidents of large numbers of people turning back when they were informed of the technology trials taken place.
However, this phenomena may also have stemmed from a public aversion to being scanned by surveillance devices. British civil liberties campaigners Big Brother Watch have taken a case to the European Court of Human Right about the UK government’s trial and use of mass surveillance technology.
Silkie Carlo director of Big Brother Watch commented in a blog that: “We are taking the challenge to the highest level to protect the rights of millions of citizens to be free from unwarranted state intrusion. Some of the worst abuses of state powers in recent years have been enabled by secret, suspicionless surveillance and it must come to an end.”
Frances Crook chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform made clear that we must be careful with this type of technology and more evidence needs to be submitted about the deterring affects of surveillance technology.
She believes it would be would counterproductive for the system if inmate’s families were being put off from visiting the prison.
Investment Into Prison Services
The technology trials form part of a bigger investment into UK prisons as £16 million is being use to improve conditions for staff and inmates.
Seven million of this fund has being marked for new security measures and techniques such as facial recognition technology. Prisons are also investigating the use of phone blocking technology, which would set up no signal zones in order to stop criminal leaders orchestrating crimes from their cells.
Justice Secretary David Gauke commented that the recent biometric trails that: “It forms part of this government’s multi-million-pound investment to improve the safety and security of our prisons. Alongside our successful officer recruitment drive, measures like this will help make prisons places of rehabilitation where offenders can turn their lives around. This will cut reoffending and make the public safer.”