Safety and Security

UK Trials Facial Recognition Tech During The Holidays

Police in the United Kingdom are planning to use facial recognition over the holidays in highly-populated areas to find criminals, according to reports.

Police plan to use the technology to scan shoppers’ faces in London — particularly in Soho, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, which are all major shopping areas.

The Metropolitan Police, U.K.’s capital force, has tried the technology six times before, especially at large gatherings. It was used at the Notting Hill Carnival in ‘16 and ‘17, and Remembrance Day services as well.

Cameras will be put on lampposts and vans, using software made by Japanese company NEC. The cameras will measure faces’ structure and compare them to police mugshots. Police say that when there’s a match, officers will examine the person and decide whether to stop them or not.

Police will also poster the area and let shoppers know that they’re being scanned, and said anyone who doesn’t want to be scanned won’t be considered suspicious.

U.K. privacy advocates are fiercely against the idea. Big Brother Watch, a privacy advocacy group, called the technology “misleading, incompetent, and authoritarian.”

There’s also the matter of the tech’s high error rate, which police have had to defend. Data released under the United Kingdom’s Freedom of Information laws show that 98 percent of so-called matches made by police have been mistakes. Police commissioner Cressida Dick said the numbers didn’t bother her, and that she was completely comfortable with the trials.

“If there’s a technology that we can use lawfully — which we can, this is one — and is available, which we are trialling with massive safeguards … [and there is] the notion that that technology might be used in limited circumstances to identify against a small list of wanted offenders for serious violence, [then] I think the public would expect us to be thinking about how we can use that technology, seeing if it’s effective or efficient for us,” she told The Register. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

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