As police use of live facial recognition (LFR) is called into question in the United Kingdom, the concerns can overshadow another use of facial recognition by police officers. Facial recognition is incorporated into day-to-day police operations to identify an individual standing in front of them.

This more common usage should not be called into question, says Simon Hall, CEO of Coeus Software, which developed PoliceBox, a software that enables police officers to complete the majority of their daily tasks from an app operating on a smart phone.

Time-consuming process

There are two different use cases for facial recognition in the context of law enforcement"

Verifying the identity of an individual standing in front of you via facial recognition should be no more controversial than taking a fingerprint for the same purpose,” says Hall. “We are not talking about mass surveillance here, but the opportunity to use technology to make an officer’s day more efficient. Verifying a person’s ID is a time-consuming process if you have to take them to the station, so being able to do this more quickly should be welcomed as a positive step to modernise policing.”

Because the use of facial recognition by police has proven to be a divisive topic, Simon is eager to highlight the distinction between the use of facial recognition for ID verification and the more controversial mass surveillance that some police forces have trialed. “There are two different use cases for facial recognition in the context of law enforcement,” says Hall.

Number-plate recognition

Firstly, there is facial recognition to verify a person’s identity (typically done face-to-face with the individual concerned and using the Police National Computer [PNC] database). This is no more controversial than taking an individual’s fingerprint to verify their ID but can be conducted more quickly if the officer has the capability on their smart phone. The second common use of facial recognition is to identify suspects quickly via mass surveillance. This is more controversial.” The focus for PoliceBox is ID verification only, he adds.

The second common use of facial recognition is to identify suspects quickly via mass surveillance
The focus of facial recognition for PoliceBox is ID verification only

First, there is the matter of consent. In the context of facial recognition in public situations, it is very difficult to inform everyone that they are being observed, so they cannot give their informed consent, says Hall. Then there is the inability for people to ‘opt out’ of the process. Unlike with driving a car, where one can technically opt-out of the rules of the road (and avoid technologies like number-plate recognition) by choosing not to drive, there is no such option for facial recognition.

National surveillance system

Secondly, many-to-many matching (matching lots of images to lots of database records) is more likely to produce false matches, resulting in possible perceived harassment of individuals who happen to match a person of interest, notes Hall.

The government is openly exploring plans to develop a national surveillance system using facial recognition

Lastly, Hall says there are legitimate concerns that the technology could be misused for discrimination or exerting control over populations. In China, for example, where facial recognition technology is already widely used in the commercial sector, the government is openly exploring plans to develop a national surveillance system using facial recognition. “Mass surveillance can be used in two ways; real-time, whereby ‘people of interest’ are flagged up as soon as a match is detected, and historical, where the movements of individuals around the time of a reported crime are established after the event,” says Hall.

Repeated false matches

These two modes probably require different types of safeguards. For example, it may be appropriate to obtain a warrant to search historical data, to prevent Cambridge-Analytica style mining of personal data. For real time data, safeguards against repeated false matches are needed to prevent harassment of falsely matched individuals.”

Properly implemented, facial recognition can be consistent with the GDPR. The principles are no different from obtaining a fingerprint to confirm identity, where consent would normally be given. For PoliceBox, using fingerprint or facial identification is typically a time-saving solution, benefitting both parties, instead of going to the police station and establishing identity there. Signed consent can be obtained on the spot using a secure on-screen signature.

For PoliceBox, using fingerprint or facial identification is typically a time-saving solution, benefitting both parties
The PoliceBox solution is based on the UK legal framework and would also be appropriate for countries whose laws are similar to the UK

Facial recognition algorithms

Fingerprints and facial images can be automatically deleted once used to establish identity. There are special provisions for the collection of personal data for law enforcement purposes without consent, and some test cases for mass surveillance could go through the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). This is particularly significant where private operators are concerned.

PoliceBox solution is also internationalised and can be used in different languages

The PoliceBox solution is based on the UK legal framework and would also be appropriate for countries whose laws are similar to the UK. It is also internationalised and can be used in different languages. Facial recognition algorithms and databases are typically implemented by the relevant law enforcement body (such as the Home Office) and not directly within the product, which acts as a front-end to those systems.

Public sector organisations

Hall sees several remaining challenges related to police use of facial recognition:

  • The adoption of cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions within the public sector. The existing infrastructure in the public sector has evolved over a number of years and there are significant legacy systems in place that need to be refreshed/replaced;
  • Need for proven technology. Public sector organisations are risk-averse and often insist on being able to reference existing installations, which creates a Catch 22 problem when introducing new technology as someone has to be first;
  • Interrupting business-as-usual. Most organisations already have some form of an existing solution. Even if this system provides poor ROI and is extremely dated, one must still overcome ‘the better the devil you know’ policy;
  • A reluctance by some suppliers to share information with other solutions via APIs. This has stifled innovation for some time.

Improving officers’ wellbeing

These challenges are slowly being overcome. “I am confident we will soon see an accelerated adoption of platforms such as ours to deliver the financial and efficiency savings that are needed to bring the public sector into the 21st century,” says Hall.

One of the biggest themes to come out of the recent Home Office Review into frontline policing was the need to improve officers’ wellbeing. Law enforcement has to deal with some of the most difficult and harrowing situations on an almost daily basis. The administrative burden can also be problematic, says Hall. “If we can help to reduce the administrative burden placed on officers – even by a little bit – the overall improvements in effectiveness and well-being when magnified across a whole force will be significant.”

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor, &

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

In case you missed it

What are the security challenges of protecting utilities?
What are the security challenges of protecting utilities?

Utilities are an important element of critical infrastructure and, as such, must be protected to ensure that the daily lives of millions of people continue without disruption. Protecting utilities presents a unique range of challenges, whether one considers the electrical grid or telecommunications networks, the local water supply or oil and gas lines. Security technologies contribute to protecting these diverse components, but it’s not an easy job. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the security challenges of protecting utilities?

Q&A: how the ‘secret service of Hollywood’ protects celebrities
Q&A: how the ‘secret service of Hollywood’ protects celebrities

At a major music festival, a fan in the crowd aggressively leapt over a barricade to approach a famous artist. Personnel from Force Protection Agency immediately implemented extrication protocol to shield the artist from physical harm, quickly reversed course and calmly led the client away from the threat. Force Protection Agency (FPA) personnel intentionally did not engage the threatening fan in any way, as local venue security personnel were present and tasked with apprehending the rogue fan. FPA’s efforts were directed expressly toward the protection of the client, avoiding unnecessary escalation or complications and minimising physical, visual, and legal exposure. Dedicated to the safety of clients Force Protection Agency is a unique, elite-level agency inspired by a vision for excellence and innovation Specialising in protecting celebrities and high-net-worth individuals, Force Protection Agency is a unique, elite-level agency inspired by a vision for excellence and innovation, and dedicated to the safety and success of clients. The agency was formed in 2017 by Russell Stuart, a California State Guard officer and security and entertainment industry veteran. The agency is the culmination of 20 years of experience in the fields of security, military, emergency management, logistics and technology, media and entertainment, and celebrity management. We interviewed Russell Stuart, Founder and CEO of Force Protection Agency (FPA), which has been called “the Secret Service of Hollywood,” for his insights into providing security for celebrities. Q: What unique need in the marketplace do you seek to serve, and how are you qualified to serve it? Stuart: The needs of celebrity and high-net-worth clients are complex and constantly changing. When dealing with a high-profile individual, discretion is paramount, extensive communication is required, and adaptation is ongoing. A critical objective is anticipating and planning for all types of potential negative scenarios and preventing them from even starting, all while not disrupting the normal course of operation of the client's day or their business. Force Protection Agency is poised to serve these needs by innovating and intelligently managing the planning, procedures, and personnel used in every facet of protecting the client’s interests and achieving their objectives. Q: What is the typical level of "professionalism" among bodyguards and security professionals that protect celebrities? Why does professionalism matter, and how do you differentiate yourself on this point? Stuart: Professionalism is an overall way of approaching everything to do with the business, from recruiting, to training, to making sure the right agent is with the right client. Nothing matters more; polish and precision are not only critical to mission success, but also support the comprehensive best interest of the client while preventing costly collateral damage and additional negative consequences. True “professional protective services" is intelligent strength and proper execution, not emotional or reactionary violence. Unfortunately, the latter is frequent among many celebrity bodyguards, and often incurs extremely expensive and even dangerous repercussions. Q: Your company has been described as "the Secret Service of Hollywood." How true is that comparison, and how does your work differ from (e.g.) protecting the President? Force Protection Agency prides itself on providing its services with discretion, precision, and poise Stuart: Totally true, and for this reason: the keys to success in protection are prioritization, and planning. Most people fail to even recognise the first, negating any level of effort given to the second. Establishing the true needs and the correct priority of objectives for each individual client and situation, and firmly committing to these without deviation, are what distinguishes both government secret services and Force Protection Agency from the vast majority of general security firms. Also, the term “secret service” implies an inconspicuous yet professional approach, and Force Protection Agency prides itself on providing its services with discretion, precision, and poise. Q: What is the biggest challenge of protecting celebrities? Stuart: The very nature of celebrity is visibility and access, which always increases risk. The challenge of protecting a high-profile individual is facilitating that accessibility in a strategic and controlled manner while mitigating risk factors. A client’s personal desires and preferences can often conflict with a lowest risk scenario, so careful consideration and thorough preparation are essential, along with continual communication. Q: How does the approach to protection change from one celebrity (client) to another? What variables impact how you do your job? Stuart: The approach is largely determined by the client’s specific needs, requests and objectives. The circumstances of a client's activities, location, and other associated entities can vastly disrupt operation activities. A client may prefer a more or less obvious security presence, which can impact the quantity and proximity of personnel. Force Protection Agency coordinates extensively with numerous federal, state, and municipal government agencies, which also have a variety of influence depending on the particular locations involved and the specific client activities being engaged in.  Q: Are all your clients celebrities or what other types of "executives" do you protect – and, if so, how are those jobs different? Stuart: Force Protection Agency provides protective services for a wide range of clients, from the world’s most notable superstars to corporate executives and government representatives. We also provide private investigation services for a vast variety of clientele. Force Protection Agency creates customised solutions that surpass each individual client’s needs and circumstances. The differences between protecting a major celebrity or top business executive can be quite different or exactly the same. Although potentially not as well known in popular culture, some top CEOs have a net worth well above many famous celebrities and their security needs must reflect their success. Q: What is the role of technology in protecting famous people (including drones)? Technology is crucial to the success of security operations Stuart: Technology is crucial to the success of security operations and brings a tremendous advantage to those equipped with the best technological resources and the skills required to maximise their capabilities. It affects equipment such as communication and surveillance devices like drones, cameras, radios, detection/tracking devices, GPS, defensive weapons, protective equipment, and more. Technology also brings immense capabilities to strategic planning and logistical operations through the power of data management and is another aspect of Force Protection Agency operation that sets us apart from the competition. Q: What additional technology tools would be helpful in your work (i.e., a “technology wish list”)? Stuart: The rapidly growing and evolving realm of social media is a massive digital battlefield littered with current and potential future threats and adversaries. Most mass shooters as of late have left a trail of disturbing posts and comments across social media platforms and chat rooms that telegraphed their disturbing mindset and future attacks. A tool that could manage an intelligent search for such threats and generate additional intel through a continuous scan of all available relevant data from social media sources would be extremely useful and could potentially save many lives. Q: Anything you wish to add? Stuart: Delivering consistent excellence in protection and security is both a vital need and a tremendous responsibility. Force Protection Agency is proud of their unwavering commitment to “Defend, Enforce, Assist” and stands ready to secure and satisfy each and every client, and to preserve the life and liberty of our nation and the world.

How custom solutions meet customer needs for access control
How custom solutions meet customer needs for access control

The software-based technology running today’s access control systems is ideal for creating custom solutions for very specific end-user needs. Those needs may vary from delaying bar patrons’ access to a shooting range to reducing the risk of diamond miners pocketing precious stones. The ability to tightly integrate with and control video, intrusion, and other equipment puts access control at the heart of enterprise security. Often, off-the-shelf access systems provide most of the features an end user requires, but due to their type of business, facility or location, some organisations still have unaddressed needs. That’s where a custom solution can fulfill an essential task. Custom solutions are frequently requested by end users or the reseller to expand access control to meet those needs. Here’s a look at some custom solutions designed for end users. Area & time-based access control The owners of a popular shooting range also operate an onsite, full-service bar, and the owners wanted to delay entry to the shooting range once a customer had consumed alcoholic beverages at the bar. The custom solution works with the access cards customers use to enter the range. When a patron orders an alcoholic beverage, the bartender presents the patron’s credential to a reader at the cash register.  With each drink, the access control system puts an automatic delay on the card being used to enter the shooting range. An area and time-based control solution was created An area and time-based control solution was created for a major pharmaceutical manufacturer concerned with potential contamination between laboratories testing viral material and others designing new vaccines. If an employee uses a badge to enter a room with viral material, that employee can be denied access to a different area (typically a clean room in this case), for a customised period of time. This reduces the potential of cross contamination between ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ rooms. The software can be customised by room combinations and times. Random screening A mine operator wanted to prevent easily portable precious stones from being taken by miners. The custom solution uses the access control system integrated with time and attendance software. As the miners clock in, the system randomly and secretly flags a user-defined percentage of them to be searched as their shifts end. Security guards monitor displays and pull selected employees aside.  A nice feature of this solution is that the random screening can be overridden at a moment’s notice. For example, if the process causes excessive delays, guards can override the system to enable pre-selected miners to pass until the bottleneck is relieved. The solution has also been adopted by a computer manufacturer looking to control theft by employees and vendors. Scheduler The system automatically unlocks and locks doors A custom solutions team integrated a university’s class scheduling and access control software to lock doors to classrooms that are not in use. With the custom solution in place, the system automatically unlocks and locks doors 15 minutes prior to and after a class. The doors remain unlocked if the room will be used again within the next 30 minutes. Readers mounted at each door enable faculty to enter rooms early for class setup or to work in a lab knowing students or others won’t be able to walk in. Event management This solution simplifies the visitor check-in process, especially for larger events with multiple guests. Efficiently moving people in and out of events booked at a working intelligent office building and conference center required integrating the access control system with a web-based solution storing the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of invited guests. Before an event, guests receive an email invitation that includes a link to a downloadable smartphone mobile credential. Upon arrival, guests present that credential to Bluetooth readers at the building’s gated parking garage. The same credential enables smaller groups (up to 50 guests) to enter the building through turnstile-mounted readers – also used throughout the day by hundreds of building employees. To avoid long lines for larger groups of visitors, the turnstiles are kept open with security guards using handheld readers to authenticate credentials as guests enter the lobby. Additionally, a third-party emergency notification system was added to this custom solution. Guests receive instructions on their smartphones should there be a need to shelter in place or evacuate during an event. The credentials and notifications are disabled as guests leave the building through the turnstiles. This allows the hospital to maintain a secure environment while providing a simplified, efficient access solution Similar custom solutions have been deployed at hospitals searching for a way to provide secure access to patients only expected to be staying a short time for surgery.  Patients are emailed a mobile credential to access both the hospital’s parking structure and surgical reception area. They can also designate family members and other visitors to receive emailed mobile credentials.  This allows the hospital to maintain a secure environment while providing a simplified, efficient access solution for patients and visitors. Custom solutions are about problem solving. It’s finding answers to needs not specifically addressed by an access control system. The robust software of modern access control systems enables the design of custom solutions to efficiently enhance security, save time and reduce redundant tasks through automated processes.