Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner for England, has commented that he believes facial recognition will have the revolutionary impact on society that DNA has had since its discovery in the 1980s, in particular for policing.

As an advanced measurement of genetic characteristics, DNA could be considered a form of biometrics. The innovation of biometrics has led to multiple modalities benefiting authentication and identity verification across industries like travel, government and healthcare.

The main difference when a criminal is apprehended is the availability of DNA to keep custody of an offender’s unique identity in the event they may reoffend. It is much more common practice nowadays for DNA and biometric scans of the face, iris and fingerprints to be maintained in police databases for matching purposes.

The Guardian reported Sir Mark Rowley’s comments: “We’ve also shown recently that live facial recognition is massively effective at picking out wanted offenders from crowds of people.”

The capabilities of biometric technologies also enables identities to be matched from dense crowds of people travelling through the airport or in a public places, where back-up databases exist.

CCTV, which can produce blurry images of offenders, will be the focus to leverage facial recognition technology to identify suspects.

“The results that we’re getting are beyond what I expected and I think are going to transform investigative work, potentially, in the way that DNA transformed investigative work 30 years ago.”

Human rights lawyers, which call this technology “dystopian“, are against the invasion of privacy and freedom that biometrics could impose on people in public spaces, equating to surveillance.

The inclusion of CCTV within the scope of biometric operations could result in “scanning hundreds of thousands of innocent Londoners, often with dangerously inaccurate results”.

Just as the law has determined robust rules over DNA use, biometrics technology has been written into developing policies and standards to govern privacy, safety and limit surveillance. More convergence on the approach to biometrics must be taken though within a parliamentary debate.

She added: “We cannot have police making up the rules on such a powerful surveillance technology as they go along, nor monitoring the public with live facial recognition cameras which are at the most invasive, extreme end of the spectrum.”