London’s Metropolitan Police are officially moving forward with plans to introduce facial recognition cameras at various points throughout the city. The cameras will only be active for five or six hours at a time to search for suspects on a customized database of serious offenders.
The police force previously tested the system on its own officers, and claims that it is able to identify 70 percent of the suspects in its database. However, an independent review found that the system was only 19 percent accurate, casting considerable doubt on those claims. Privacy advocates have also warned about the potential for racial bias.
The police have nevertheless been emboldened in the wake of a court case that determined facial recognition did not violate a citizen’s civil rights (at least in one specific instance in South Wales). That case is currently under appeal, but the Met still believes that it has the support of the public and is on strong legal footing with its surveillance network.
However, the police agency will be taking several steps to try to alleviate the public’s concerns. To that end, the police will post signs and hand out flyers to inform the public about the use and locations of the cameras, although the pre-emptive measures have done little to quell the criticisms of British privacy advocates.
“This technology puts many human rights at risk, including the rights to privacy, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly,” said Amnesty International UK’s Allan Hogarth. “This is no time to experiment with technology that is being used without adequate transparency, oversight and accountability.”
Despite earlier denials, the Met suffered a credibility hit when it admitted that it supplied database images for a controversial surveillance program on a private development in central London. That development is now being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The news comes shortly after citizens protested the use of facial recognition during a soccer match in Cardiff City. The Met has previously voiced its opposition to regulatory requirements that have limited the more widespread use of the technology.
Sources: The Guardian, BBC
January 24, 2020 – by Eric Weiss