Thousands of shoppers in Stratford, UK, had their faces scanned by facial recognition technology, deployed by the Metropolitan Police on Tuesday.
Just last month, the Met Police announced that it would begin the operational use of Live Facial Recognition (LFR) technology. On Tuesday it had started to do so at key locations in Stratford between 11:00-16:30.
In a tweet, the Met Police explained that the technology is “part of a proactive policing operation to focus on violent and other serious offences.”
Having experienced a number of incidents of “public space violence”, the Met’s lead on crime prevention, Commander Mark McEwen explained that for this reason Stratford had been chosen. Additionally, the local community supported the police in using any tactic to deal with the violence.
Every passerby’s face was scanned and cross-matched against a watchlist of 5,000 biometric profiles of people wanted for serious criminal offences, wanted by the courts, or even wanted for investigations.
The cameras were mounted on a dark blue fan, to which signs surrounding the van announced that the technology was in use and that “there is no legal requirement for you to pass through the LFR system.”
However, by the time a sign could have been read by passerby it was likely the camera already scanned their face, according to Siân Berry, co-leader of the Green Party.
“The police have gone ahead and used [facial recognition] in defiance of some serious warnings that have been issued by people like the information commissioner, the surveillance camera commissioner and the biometric commissioner,” Berry said.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, stood by the van displaying a placard “Stop facial recognition.”
Carlo told The Guardian: “If we let this slide, this is going to be the beginning of something much worse. If they are successful in rolling this out and the legal challenges don’t work we will see this on CCTV networks pretty soon.”
The Met Police stated that following a two-year trial of the technology, 70% of wanted suspects were identified, whilst only one in 1,000 people generated a false alert. However, an independent review found otherwise – with only eight out of 42 matches being “verifiable correct.”
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