Controversial facial recognition technology, capable of scanning 18,000 people per minute, has been trialled by the Metropolitan Police in London’s West End which civil liberties groups argue is inaccurate and breaches human rights.
Unmarked green vans are being stationed in Soho, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square to conduct surveillance over two days, with the intention of ‘reducing crime in the area’.
Facial recognition technology works by mapping out people’s facial features and body measurements and matches this biometric data to police databases and watchlists.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police claim the technology is being used “overtly” with uniformed police officers handing out leaflets and posters highlighting the presence of the vans and technology.
The use of unmarked vans and false assertions in the limited public statements available shows the police have no intention of gaining the public’s consent.
Hannah Couchman, Liberty
However, civil liberties organisations monitoring the deployment have highlighted that posters and notices are barely visible in an extremely busy part of the West End.
Hannah Couchman, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “The police have tried to suggest the rollout of this invasive technology is an open and transparent trial. We have witnessed the opposite. The use of unmarked vans and false assertions in the limited public statements available shows the police have no intention of gaining the public’s consent.”
Surveillance Labelled as ‘Authoritarian, Dangerous and Lawless’
"It's turning members of the public into walking ID cards."
Director of Big Brother Watch @silkiecarlo says it's "outrageous" that police are set to test live facial recognition technology in London.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 15, 2018
Civil liberties and privacy organisation Big Brother Watch have described the Metropolitan Police’s use of mass facial recognition surveillance technology – capable of scanning 300 faces per second – as “authoritarian, dangerous and lawless”.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The police’s use of this authoritarian surveillance tool in total absence of a legal or democratic basis is alarming. Live facial recognition is a form of mass surveillance that, if allowed to continue, will turn members of the public into walking ID cards.”
Live facial recognition is a form of mass surveillance that will turn members of the public into walking ID cards.
Silkie Carlo, Director Big Brother Watch
Big Brother Watch submitted Freedom of Information requests to the Metropolitan Police earlier this year revealing the technology to be “98% inaccurate”, misidentifying 95 people at last year’s Notting Hill Carnival as criminals.
Carlo added: “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.”
Following the monitoring of the Metropolitan Police’s facial recognition vans in the West End yesterday, Big Brother Watch reported witnessing the misidentification of a young black man, who was wrongly matched with a person on the police’s watch-list.
Critics highlight that police use of facial recognition technology has not been properly debated in Parliament and limits to its deployment have not been set out in law. There are also concerns around data privacy and what happens to the biometric data and photos gathered using the technology.
Rights to Free Speech, Freedom of Assembly and Privacy Are Threatened
"Almost entirely, the people we've spoken to have been completely unaware their faces are being scanned." @Hannah_Couchman speaking with @TashaBernal @Telegraph about Met Police use of #FacialRecognition on unknowing Londoners #ResistFacialRec pic.twitter.com/KWmZirZemH
— Liberty (@libertyhq) December 18, 2018
Campaigners stress that mass surveillance of innocent people in public violates three articles of the Human Rights Convention, Article 10 – The Right to Freedom of Expression; Article 11 – The Right to Freedom of Assembly and Association; and Article 8 – The Right to a Private Life.
Hannah Couchman, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “This mass surveillance technology that undermines our rights to privacy and freedom of association. It has no place on our streets.”
It is a clear breach of privacy rights and freedom of expression in the UK.
Big Brother Watch
Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jenny Jones have launched a legal challenge to the Metropolitan police and Home Office, “demanding that they end their lawless use of dangerously authoritarian facial recognition cameras. It is a clear breach of privacy rights and freedom of expression in the UK.”
Information Commissioner, Says it’s ‘Intrusive’ and ‘Lacking Transparency’
Credit: Big Brother Watch | Twitter
The Information Commissioner’s Office, the watchdog of information rights, describes police use of facial recognition technology in public spaces as ‘intrusive’ and lacking ‘transparency’.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denman said, “how facial recognition technology is used in public spaces can be particularly intrusive. It’s a real step change in the way law-abiding people are monitored as they go about their daily lives.
It’s a real step change in the way law-abiding people are monitored as they go about their daily lives.
Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denman
“There is a lack of transparency about its use and is a real risk that the public safety benefits derived from the use of FRT [facial recognition technology] will not be gained if public trust is not addressed.”
Denman has written to the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs Council outlining her concerns and calling for protections for the public to be put in place.
Metropolitan Police Say They Are Trialling the Technology
This morning officers from across Westminster are accompanied by the Violent Crime Taskforce & ward officers from @MPSSoho whilst testing is carried out of the latest facial recognition technology. #Soho #Technology
— MPS Westminster (@MPSWestminster) December 17, 2018
The Metropolitan Police has stressed the current deployment and four further deployments this year are trials.
Ivan Balhatchet, said: “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 have invited individuals and groups with varying views on our use of facial recognition technology to this deployment.
“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.”
South Wales Police and Leicestershire police are also trialling the facial recognition technology. South Wales Police used it ahead of the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final in Cardiff, and the Metropolitan Police have deployed it at Notting Hill Carnival, Remembrance Sunday and various protests.
Facial recognition technology has also been used by Greater Manchester Police and the Metropolitan Police at shopping centres across Manchester and London respectively.