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UK police are back at it with facial recognition, spying on London shoppers during Christmas

Facial recognition technology has drawn a number of criticisms throughout 2018, from concerns over privacy to bias and the high number of false positives. Metropolitan Police are back at it again with the divisive software this week, attempting to spot criminals amongst shoppers in London.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has trialled various implementations of facial recognition technology since 2016, with the latest effort tallying the seventh public test. The newest version of the software can identify a staggering 18,000 faces per minute according to Cardiff University researchers, which is currently being pitted against the busy shopping period in Soho, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, London.

Image: Metropolitan Police

Those around the area will notice the bolstered uniformed presence, which is accompanied by unmarked vehicles around the three areas, all ready to deploy should a red flag match against the database of wanted criminals. The problem is, the technology has been noticeably lacking, particularly in the United Kingdom.

Back in May, it was revealed that the Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) ‘Locate’ system piloted in 2017 incorrectly flagged 2,297 false positives out of a total of 2,470 identified people in total. This was blamed on a technical issue, which has presumably been fixed in the past year as MPS strategic lead Ivan Balhatchet remains confident in the technology.

“The Met is currently developing the use of live facial recognition technology and we have committed to ten trials during the coming months. We are now coming to the end of our trials when a full evaluation will be completed. We continue to engage with many different stakeholders, some who actively challenge our use of this technology. In order to show transparency and continue constructive debate, we have invited individuals and groups with varying views on our use of facial recognition technology to this deployment.”

While the effort to be forthcoming with leaflets and posters has been somewhat praised, campaigners have noted that it isn’t the full story. Facial recognition technology maintains its divisiveness due to its invasive tactics, throwing privacy out of the window in favour of an “incompetent, and authoritarian” method of catching criminals, according to Big Brother Watch.

“Live facial recognition is a form of mass surveillance that, if allowed to continue, will turn members of the public into walking ID cards,” explains Big Brother Watch’s director Silkie Carlo. “As with all mass surveillance tools, it is the general public who suffer more than criminals. The fact that it has been utterly useless so far shows what a terrible waste of police time and public money it is. It is well overdue that police drop this dangerous and lawless technology.”

The MPS has already completed one day of its trial and is expected to be well under way with its second 8-hour test today, Tuesday 18 December, 2018.

KitGuru Says: Those unwilling to be scanned during the test “will not be viewed as suspicious by police officers,” however this tech doesn’t necessarily seem like an opt-in scheme. Particularly as no criminal is going to voluntarily put themselves on the radar of the MPS. How do you feel about the recent push on facial recognition technology?

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