Police Facial Recognition Is An Authoritarian And Oppressive Surveillance Tool

Facial recognition technology has been used to compare faces with people on police wanted lists

Police have been rolling out the software to be used at major events such as sporting fixtures and music concerts, including a Liam Gallagher concert and global rugby games, aiming to identify wanted criminals and people on watch lists.

First of all, the police's facial recognition technology itself is dangerously inaccurate, with our report published today revealing misidentification rates of up to 98%.

Police attempts to use cameras linked to databases to recognise peoples' faces are failing, with the wrong person picked nine times out 10, a report claims.

The second such identification took place during last year's Remembrance Sunday event, but this was someone known as a "fixated individual" - these are people known to frequently contact public figures - but who was not a criminal and not wanted for arrest.

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".

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.

The software used by South Wales Police and the Metropolitan Police has not been tested for demographic accuracy, but in the United States concerns have been raised that facial recognition is less reliable for women and black people.

It was also used by South Wales police at protests against an arms fair.

"We have been extremely disappointed to encounter resistance from the police in England and Wales to the idea that such testing is important or necessary", Big Brother Watch said in the report.

But how facial recognition technology is used in public spaces can be particularly intrusive.

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"For the use of FRT to be legal, the police forces must have clear evidence to demonstrate that the use of FRT in public spaces is effective in resolving the problem that it aims to address, and that no less intrusive technology or methods are available to address that problem".

Its false positive rate is 91 per cent, and the matches led to 15 arrests - equivalent to 0.005 per cent of matches.

In London, the Metropolitan Police said there had been 102 false positives, where someone was incorrectly matched to a photo, and only two that were correct. What protections are there for people that are of no interest to the police?

"On a much smaller number of occasions, officers went and spoke to the individual. realised it wasn't them, and offered them the opportunity to come and see the van".

New data protection rules are about to come into force in the United Kingdom, requiring organizations to assess the risks of new technologies, particularly when biometric data is involved, and also to provide a data protection impact assessment to Denham's office in some circumstances.

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

Denham also expressed concern with both the transparency and proportionality aspects of the retention of the 19 million images in the Police National Database.

In March, Williams said that because images can only be deleted manually, weeding out innocent people "will have significant costs and be hard to justify given the off-setting reductions forces would be required to find to fund it".

An investigation by campaign group Big Brother Watch suggested the technology flagged up a "staggering" number of innocent people as suspects.

In its report, Big Brother Watch said: "Automated facial recognition cameras are biometric identification checkpoints that risk making members of the public walking ID cards".

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