Police must gain public trust on facial recognition tech


Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: "Real-time facial recognition is a dangerously authoritarian surveillance tool that could fundamentally change policing in the UK".

Worryingly, 102 innocent members of the public were identified by the technology, although the force has yet to make an arrest using it.

The Metropolitan Police said that "all alerts against the watch list are deleted after 30 days", adding that any "faces in the video stream that do not generate an alert are deleted immediately".

In figures given to Big Brother Watch, South Wales Police said its technology had made 2,685 "matches" between May 2017 and March 2018 - but 2,451 were false alarms.

Big Brother Watch's campaign, calling on United Kingdom public authorities to immediately stop using automated facial recognition software with surveillance cameras, is backed by David Lammy MP and 15 rights and race equality groups including Article 19, Football Supporters Federation, Index on Censorship, Liberty, Netpol, Police Action Lawyers Group, the Race Equality Foundation, and Runnymede Trust.

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The group described this as a "chilling example of function creep" and an example of the unsafe effect it could have on the rights of marginalised people.

Big Brother Watch submitted freedom of information requests to every police force in the UK.

This is compounded by the fact that the commercial software used by the Met - and also South Wales Police (SWP) - has yet to be tested for demographic accuracy biases.

SWP - which has used AFR at 18 public places since it was first introduced in May 2017 - has fared only slightly better.

"Officers can quickly establish if the person has been correctly or incorrectly matched by traditional policing methods, either by looking at the person or through a brief conversation", a spokesperson said.

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Underlying the concerns about the poor accuracy of the kit are complaints about a lack of clear oversight - an issue that has been raised by a number of activists, politicians and independent commissioners in related areas.

"When trialling facial recognition technologies, forces must show regard to relevant policies, including the Surveillance Camera Code of Practices and the Information Commissioner's guide", it said in a statement.

Further details are expected in the long-awaited biometrics strategy, which is slated to appear in June.

But the biggest differences with this police force are that it has made 15 arrests using facial recognition results, and that twice as many innocent people were significantly affected.

It said a "number of safeguards" prevented any action being taken against innocent people. This means that they remain on the system unless a person asks for them to be removed. Despite a court ruling in 2012 that the retention of innocent people's images was "unlawful", the Home Office has refused to delete them, claiming it's "too expensive". Despite this, the force is planning seven more deployments this year.

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Big Brother Watch claimed that the tech is "almost entirely inaccurate", with false positives at the Metropolitan Police of 98%, despite millions of pounds of taxpayers' money being spent. However, the British people will need to decide whether or not they want to live in a world where they are continuously watched, intrusively surveilled, and biometrically tracked, and think about how that may affect their fundamental rights.