Facial recognition tech not reliable - privacy commissioner

The Information Commissioner is threatening to take legal action over the police's use of facial recognition technology

Big Brother Watch's campaign, calling on United Kingdom public authorities to immediately stop using automated facial recognition software with surveillance cameras, is backed by David Lammy MP and 15 rights and race equality groups including Article 19, Football Supporters Federation, Index on Censorship, Liberty, Netpol, Police Action Lawyers Group, the Race Equality Foundation, and Runnymede Trust.

I witnessed the Metropolitan Police use automated facial recognition at Notting Hill Carnival past year, and while watching for only five minutes I saw the system wrongly identify two innocent women walking down the street as men on the police's "watch-list".

South Wales Police used the facial recognition software at various events including the Uefa Champions League 2017 final in Cardiff, worldwide rugby matches and concerts.

United Kingdom police facial recognition is lawless, undemocratic, and dangerously inaccurate.

Facial recognition is also used by South Wales Police, but 91% of its system's matches were inaccurate, despite the Home Office providing £2.6 million in funding to use the technology.

Forces use facial recognition in two ways: one is after the fact, while cross-checking of images against mugshots held in national databases; the other involves real-time scanning of people's faces in a crowd to compare against a "watch list" that is freshly drawn up for each event.

But the same system incorrectly flagged 102 people as potential suspects, and authorities subsequently pulled aside and interviewed at least five people during the 2017 carnival and made them prove their identities, the report said.

"When we first deployed and we were learning how to use it. some of the digital images we used weren't of sufficient quality", said Deputy Chief Constable Richard Lewis.

"This system does not include facial recognition but does capture images and licence plate numbers, enabling our loss prevention staff to identify offenders more easily and get on top of theft".

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.

It said a "number of safeguards" prevented any action being taken against innocent people.

"Regarding "false" positive matches - we do not consider these as false positive matches because additional checks and balances are in place to confirm identification following system alerts", it said in a statement. A Met police spokesperson said that all alerts on its watch list were deleted after 30 days and faces that do not generate an alert are immediately deleted. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act says that any interference with the right to private life must be both necessary and proportionate. The Biometrics Commissioner has also raised these concerns.

What does Big Brother Watch want?

Dancers at a Caribbean carnival in a west London street, peaceful protestors at a lawful demonstration against an arms fair, and citizens and veterans paying their respects to war dead on Remembrance Sunday - these people have all been targeted by police's new authoritarian surveillance tool invading our public spaces: automated facial recognition.

The privacy group also said that: "automated facial recognition technology is now used by United Kingdom police forces without a clear legal basis, oversight or governmental strategy".

A police spokesman confirmed they worked with Auror to reduce retail crime, and information retailers provided to the company's software system was also shared with police. "Should my concerns not be addressed I will consider what legal action is needed to ensure the right protections are in place for the public".

The UK home office told the BBC it plans to publish its biometric strategy in June.

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