facial recognition camera

Met Police trials facial recognition system in East London

Image credit: Dreamstime

The Metropolitan Police is deploying facial recognition technology outside Romford Station in East London for two days as part of a wider trial of the technology.

Previously, the Met has trialled the technology in more central parts of London, including Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, and Soho, as well as in a controversial deployment at the Notting Hill Carnival in 2017. A trial in Westminster in December 2018 reportedly led to two arrests as a result of the system identifying individuals wanted in connection with violent crimes.

“The Met is currently developing the use of live facial recognition and our trial period is coming to an end,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Ivan Balhatchet, strategic lead for live facial recognition. “Tackling violent crime is a key priority for the Met, and we are determined to use all emerging technology available to support standard policing activity and help protect our communities.”

“The technology being tested in this trial is developing all the time and has the potential to be invaluable to day-to-day policing.”

A recent rush in violent crime in London – particularly stabbings and acid attacks – has drawn concern and commentary; the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee is engaged in an ongoing enquiry into the upsurge in violent crime. The 2020 London mayoral election is likely to be revolved around candidates’ proposals for managing violent crime, with Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey already emphasising crime as a key campaign issue, and proposing maximising surveillance of London.

Facial recognition technology – which is already in use by some US law enforcement agencies – has been suggested as a tool to clamp down on violent crime committed in public.

The technology will be trialled in Romford for eight hours each day: from 10am-6pm. Passers-by will be made aware of the trial, with posters on display and uniformed officers said to be handing out leaflets near the van carrying the equipment. Civil rights group Liberty has reported, however, that it has not observed any leaflets being handed out.

This final trial will be followed with an independent evaluation into the effectiveness of the technology in deterring crime. The Met has stated that trialling the tools under real life conditions will enable for the collection of the most accurate and helpful data.

Critics strongly argue that the use of the technology by law enforcement constitutes an invasion of privacy, and has been shown to be ineffective, particularly with regards to identification of women and dark-skinned people. Big Brother Watch – a privacy rights group – has argued that the technology is a “breach of fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and assembly”.

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