Facial recognition technology is more widespread than ever — many people have phones in their pockets that use advanced sensors and algorithms to make sure no one else can access their data. However, law enforcement is also increasingly using facial recognition data to scan crowds for known criminals. The city of London is the latest to add this capability to its public safety arsenal. The city claims it’s being careful with the data, though.
London’s Metropolitan Police Service has deployed the live facial recognition technology at multiple points around the city. Signs will alert people that facial recognition is in use, but the cameras will scan crowds indiscriminately in search of wanted individuals. The police say this will help them find people accused of serious and violent crimes. The Met stresses that the facial recognition cameras are a separate system that is not tied into the city’s extensive network of CCTV cameras. So, the facial recognition system will only be active in the areas marked by signs.
If the cameras detect a potential match, it will be up to human police officers to review the image and make a determination. In a tweet, the Metropolitan Police say all images that don’t trigger a match will be immediately deleted. Although, it’s unclear what happens with images from false positives. There might be a lot of those, too.
The system relies on standard 2D camera feeds that are less accurate than 3D scanning systems. A report from the University of Essex shows that the facial recognition technology employed by the Met returned inaccurate matches about 81 percent of the time. During a test in Wales, the system developed by NEC identified 2,300 innocent people as criminals. It would be up to London police to scrutinize each of those individuals to decide whether to stop them for questioning. The Met says the system is only wrong one in one-thousand times, but it compares successful and unsuccessful matches with the total number processed by the system.
This deployment of facial recognition technology comes as the European Union considers a temporary ban. The EU may block the use of facial recognition in public spaces for five years while it studies ways to regulate it properly. That would, of course, not affect the UK if it follows through with its plans to leave the EU.
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