Dutch Police now tracking suspects with facial recognition


From today the Dutch police can track suspects using facial recognition - faces of suspects, from surveillance camera footage for example, can now be compared with a large database filled with photos of people with criminal records, NOS reports.

At present the database contains more than 800 thousand faces of convicted felons, but also suspects who haven't been convicted yet. You end up on the database if you are arrested for a crime that carries a prison sentence of at least one year, police spokesperson John Riemen said to NOS. The photo is taken on arrest. If a suspect turns out to be innocent, his photo is removed. If you are convicted, your photo will be on the database for 20 to 80 years, depending on the crime. 

But it isn't only criminals or suspected criminals that are compared to suspects, according to NOS. The police can also compare the faces of suspects to those of asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and people applying for a Dutch visa. This includes people who never came into contact with the law. To use this "foreigners database" the police need the permission of the Public Prosecutor. 

At this stage the police are not allowed to use photos of passports and drivers licenses for facial recognition, because there is no legal basis in the Netherlands to do so.

Privacy experts are critical about this development. Bits of Freedom is concerned about the fact that there was no political debate on the matter, in contrast to when the fingerprint database was implemented. The privacy organization also worries about the fact that the police can use the "foreigners database", which contains mostly innocent people as well as the long period in which the photos can be stored. The police faced criticism before for not carefully handling stored data. 

Information law professor Nico van Eijk is worried about the removal of data. "How are you sure that something was really removed from the database?" he said to the broadcaster. He also has concerns about how these databases will be used in future. "That's called feature creep: something is established for a specific purpose, but is then used for all sorts of other purposes." This previously happened with smart cameras that can recognize license plates. Initially it was implemented to recognize only suspicious cars, now license plates can be stored for four weeks, according to NOS.