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Home Office plans to give UK police forces auto-redaction technology

The department has funded a market review of redaction tools and aims to deliver AI-powered automated redaction tools to the police as quickly as possible

The Home Office wants to give UK police forces automated redaction technology, which can be used for digital media, audio and video files.

Policing minister Chris Philp has said that he wants the development of redaction tools that can be rolled out nationally to be a key priority as there is currently very limited use of auto-redaction technology across UK police forces.

The Home Office has already funded the Accelerated Capability Environment (ACE), a unit within the Homeland Security Group focused on tackling challenges arising from digital and data, to conduct a market review of what’s available from suppliers. ACE was also asked to build evidence of how technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning could contribute to efficiency savings.

The evidence case will then be used to speed up the development and adoption of AI-powered redaction tools nationally, with the aim of making it easier for police forces to share information with other organisations, while still protecting sensitive details.

ACE worked with a business analyst to learn more about the kind of tools available on the market, and which software and techniques being used or developed locally by individual forces. It then used synthetic data from Surrey Police to test the different tools.

The next phase involved six candidates demonstrating their tools to key senior stakeholders, showcasing the extend of the potential of the technology. Following this, the Home Office is now using the reports created by ACE to decide the next steps to deliver AI-powered automated redaction tools to police forces as soon as possible.

The news comes as UK policing is given a significant chunk of funding in chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget. This included more than £230m for the police to roll out time-saving technology, such as automated redaction of personal information captured on security cameras, or irrelevant faces redacted from body-worn cameras.

It will also be used for implementing video interviews of witnesses and victims, piloting the use of drones as first responders in traffic accidents, and using AI to triage calls to the police’s non-emergency number 101.The government will also create a Centre for Police Productivity to support police forces’ use of data and AI.

The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) became the focus of some contention late in 2023, when it announced plans to roll out a mobile-based facial-recognition tool, known as operator initiated facial recognition (OIFR), across police forces nationally in 2024, with further plans to increase the police’s use of retrospective facial-recognition (RFR) software by 100% before May.

This is in line with a wider push from government and law enforcement bodies to expand the use of facial-recognition technology throughout UK policing.

On 15 November 2023, in a keynote address to the NPCC’s annual Summit in London, NPCC chair Gavin Stephens noted it would play a “significant role” in helping UK policing become “an effective science-led service”, and further highlighted a study by South Wales Police that found its retrospective use of the tech has reduced the time taken to identify suspects from 14 days to a matter of minutes.

Read more about police and technology:

  • The outgoing biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner for England and Wales discusses police deployment of powerful new surveillance technologies, and the declining state of oversight in this area.
  • An independent report commissioned by the biometrics commissioner of England and Wales reveals that the UK policing minister is pushing for wider adoption of facial-recognition technology by police.
  • A database used by the Metropolitan Police to identify and track people linked with gang violence is being decommissioned and replaced.

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