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Thousands wrongly on police’s facial recognition database

The police have photos of over 1.3 million people on its facial recognition systems, but many thousands of them should not be on there. The police have no idea which people are rightly on the database, and which should already have been removed, NU.nl reports based on its own research.

The police’s facial recognition system is called CATCH. It’s been in use since the end of 2016 to track down people suspected of a criminal offense. The CATCH software can retrospectively compare images from security footage, for example, with the photos in its database to help police identify suspects.

The photos on the CATCH system largely come from another database of suspects and convicts, which is managed by the Ministry of Justice and Security and has been in use since 2010. People’s photos end up in that database when they are suspected of relatively serious criminal offenses. The photos must be removed if someone is acquitted or no longer a suspect.

In the first nine years since 2010, tens of thousands of people were eligible for their photos to be removed from the database. The court acquitted 71 thousand people and the Public Prosecution Service (OM) reached settlements with 106 thousand people who were accused of offenses serious enough to be included in the photo database, according to figures NU.nl requested from the Ministry, the OM, and the Council for the Judiciary.

The judicial information service Justid must then assess whether these persons meet the conditions to have their photos removed from the database and facial recognition system. This is not the case if they’ve been convicted of another crime, are a suspect in another case, or if an appeal is still ongoing. In the same nine year period, Justid only handled around 16,200 removal requests, approving 92.8 percent of them, the newspaper found. And it is unclear whether these photos were removed both from the Ministry of Justice and Security’s database and CATCH, or just the former database.

When the police actively started using the facial recognition system in 2016, it was already known internally that people would probably unjustly end up in the CATCH database, John Riemen, head of the Police Center for Biometrics which manages CATCH, said to the newspaper.

The police told NU.nl that it does not have exact figures, but that there are serious doubts as to whether tens of thousands of people are correctly on CATCH. The police said they “act as soon as possible” after receiving a removal request from Justid, but do not keep statistics on it, according to the newspaper.