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Digital strategy for 2020-2030 sets out police technology plans

National policing strategy sets a number of technological ambitions for the next decade, placing a particular emphasis on collaborative working and building common standards or frameworks

UK policing bodies have laid out their top five digital priorities for the decade ahead, which includes boosting collaboration between public and private sector actors, as well as building common frameworks to dictate how new technologies are used by police.

The National policing digital strategy 2020-2030 was drawn up by the Police ICT Company and the National Police Technology Council (NPTC). It flags the delivery of a seamless citizen experience, addressing harm, enabling officers and staff, embedding a whole public system approach, and empowering the private sector as top priorities for the years ahead.

It builds on the Policing vision 2025 strategy document, which focused heavily on improving data sharing and the integration of police forces with other public sector agencies.

“The pace of technology continues to advance and digital adoption is accelerating. Policing does not exist in a vacuum – we must respond to evolving demands on our service, and overcome the internal challenges that currently hamper us,” said the strategy.

“We cannot continue as we have been, impeded by complex decision-making structures and hampered by the challenges of modernising a legacy infrastructure. The time is right for us to make fundamental and transformational choices.”

Enabling transformation

The strategy’s five ambitions are underpinned by seven enablers, which will provide the foundation for the nationwide digital transformation. These include data, strategic alignment and design, modernised core technology, connected technology, risk and security, talent, and transforming procurement.

The enablers primarily focus on the need to develop common standards, approaches and structures across UK policing organisations, as well as to deliver better value for money.

For example, the strategy recommends creating a national data management guide to drive data quality and consistency, while also developing a holistic data and technology framework to enable more consistent risk decisions.

The strategy also recommends defining a “technology blueprint” for the next decade that avoids “the creation of bespoke solutions in favour of commercial off-the-shelf (Cots) applications.”

The strategy claims that using Cots products, which it recommends setting specific procurement frameworks for, will ensure the standardisation of procurement and enhance value for money.

“We will stimulate a competitive and innovative supplier landscape while working to actively remove commercial barriers. This will allow us to procure technology which suits policing needs while aggregating our buying power to ensure we are increasing the value for money,” said the strategy, adding that police “will collaborate strategically with the private sector to help them ensure their products and services are secure by design”.

In a post on LinkedIn from 15 January, the Metropolitan Police Services’ (MPS) chief technology officer, Darren Scates, also advocated an off-the-shelf approach, claiming that “there are few genuinely new or unique problems” with police technology that are not replicated in other industries.

Scates wrote: “While we must guard against our technology teams being reduced to purely ‘buyers’ of solutions, if we can adapt our delivery approach, reducing risk by using off-the-shelf products, collaborating over their implementation, then surely there is a greater chance of success?”

Ethical considerations

The strategy acknowledges that the adoption of new technologies presents a number of ethical challenges, and makes several commitments to ensure these are addressed.

This includes developing a new national data ethics governance model, providing clear lines of accountability on the use of data and algorithms in every police force, testing new technologies in “lab” settings before operationally deploying them, and working with the already established Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) to ensure data-driven technologies are used responsibly.

“We will be faced with decisions on what information we choose to acquire, the methods used to transfer and store it, and how we use it to inform actions. These decisions will need to be guided by collective debate, and made open to scrutiny to maintain public trust,” it said.

However, it is unclear if decisions already made by police organisations will be up for collective debate.

An independent report published by The Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project on the MPS’ live facial recognition (LFR) trials found a fundamental lack of engagement with human rights throughout the trial process.

“Our research led us to the conclusion that human rights compliance was not effectively built into the Metropolitan Police Service’s decision-making processes from the outset,” said one of the authors, Daragh Murray, in a blog published by the Ada Lovelace Institute.

“The research methodology adopted by the Metropolitan Police Service focused primarily on the technical aspects of the trial process. There was little clarity as to how the test deployments were intended to satisfy the non-technical objectives.

“In particular, it is unclear how the trial process intended to evaluate the utility of live facial recognition as a policing tool. As such, the overall benefit of conducting the trials – from a research perspective – was questionable.”

However, after the strategy was published, the MPS announced it would be deploying live facial recognition (LFR) technology operationally for the first time.

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