A three-pillar approach to achieving trustworthy and accountable use of AI and emerging technology in policing in England and Wales: Lessons from the West Midlands data ethics model
As the first of its kind in UK policing, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and West Midlands Police data ethics committee is an ongoing experiment in scrutinising and advising upon AI policing projects proposed for real operational environments, with the aim of putting people’s rights at the heart of technological development. Using a qualitative action research approach akin to an ‘observing participant’, this paper suggests that lessons can be learned from the committee’s activities in three main areas: i) the contribution to effective accountability in respect of ongoing data analytics projects; ii) the importance of the legal and scientific aspects of the interdisciplinary analysis; and iii) the role of necessity and the human rights framework in guiding the committee’s ethical discussion.
The big themes underpinning the committee proceedings demonstrate the operationalisation of many of the key factors that must be considered in the human rights necessity test. The technical and statistical aspects of policing AI cannot, and should not, be isolated from the legal, contextual, operational and ethical considerations, as each will influence the other, and thus how technology is evaluated. It is important however that laws applicable to specific policing activities are not overlooked, such as those relating to stop-and-search and its application to algorithmic tools.
A three-pillar approach could contribute to achieving trustworthy and accountable use of emerging technologies in UK policing: first, governing law plus guidance and policy interpreted for the relevant context; secondly, standards, both ethical standards attached to personal responsibility and scientific standards; and thirdly, people at every level within policing who are committed to accountability; all of which should be subject to rolling independent oversight. In order to ensure a stable three-pillar approach however, there needs to be fewer generalisations and more specifics as regards the application of relevant law to the deployment of emerging technologies, recognising the importance of a human rights-based approach, combined with agreed scientific standards to help us decide whether things ‘work’ in the policing context.
The West Midlands committee has provided additional and transparent positive pressure on the force to improve – productive challenge - as well as a certain level of validation for the projects that have progressed. A national model based on the West Midlands prototype could contribute to necessary assurance and monitoring and the development of specific policy, provided that the status, resourcing and operational challenges identified in this paper are addressed, and subject to linkage with appropriate regulation and enforcement.
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