Police scan faces of shoppers in London in facial recognition trial

·4-min read
Police scan faces of shoppers in London in facial recognition trial

Police are scanning the faces of shoppers in a controversial facial recognition technology trial in Oxford Circus.

Scotland Yard is seeking actors to take part in the scheme that the force say will help them to “prevent and detect crime and find wanted criminals”.

A casting call posted online and seen by The Standard, reads: “We are looking for a huge crowd of people.

“This is an exercise on behalf of the Police, scientific research to test the capability of the cameras to recognise people’s faces.

“The results of the study will help the Metropolitan Police Service fulfil their Public Sector Equality Duties regarding the uses of facial recognition.

The Star Now advert adds the force was looking for actors aged between 18 and 74 in casual clothing.

It says: “You will be taking facial photographs, videos, and selfies with a variety of camera systems to provide data for analysis of the performance of face recognition systems and differences in performance due to demographics.

“Some images will be taken with subjects wearing face masks. Images will be taken both inside and outside on the street while walking through a Live Facial Recognition deployment.”

Human rights group Liberty said they were “tipped off” to the trial when they saw the advert posted to a casting site.

One activist asked: “If they’re using actors, why do they also need to use it on Oxford Circus with thousands of people also passing through.

“Their deployment last week scanned 15,800 people for example so it’s reasonable to assume a similar number of normal people will be scanned this time too without realising, as well as the paid actors.”

Protesters from Big Brother Watch and Liberty turned up on Thursday afternoon to alert shoppers to the trial they called “oppressive and inaccurate”.

Liberty lawyer Megan Goulding said: “We should all be able to walk our streets and public spaces without the threat of being watched, tracked and monitored. Facial recognition technology is a discriminatory and oppressive surveillance tool that completely undermines this ideal.

“Just two years ago in our landmark legal case, the courts agreed that this technology violates our rights and threatens our liberties. This expansion of mass surveillance tools has no place on the streets of a rights-respecting democracy.

“Facial recognition does not make people safer, it entrenches patterns of discrimination and sows division. History tells us surveillance technology will always be disproportionately used on communities of colour and, at a time when racism in UK policing has rightly been highlighted, it is unjustifiable to use a technology that will make this even worse.

“It is impossible to regulate for the dangers created by a technology that is oppressive by design. The safest, and only, thing to do with facial recognition is to ban it.”

A post from the official Met Police Twitter account said that the cameras would be used “at key locations in Westminster” from midday.

It read: “This technology is used to prevent crime and find wanted criminals.

“We will be testing our Live Facial Recognition algorithms alongside today’s deployment. This will help us understand more about its accuracy and any bias shown. It will inform how we use facial technology legally and fairly.”

Scotland Yard said volunteers of all ages and backgrounds will walk past the facial recognition system along with members of the public.

“Watch lists” will be developed to carry out live facial checks in locations chosen for the likelihood of catching suspects. Targets will include those suspected of serious violence, gun and knife crime and child sexual exploitation.

Anyone identified by the scans will be approached by officers, asked to identify themselves and arrested if confirmed to be a wanted person.

This period the Met will keep facial data is currently set at three years and is then subject to review.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: “Live Facial Recognition (LFR) technology is used to prevent and detect crime, find wanted criminals, safeguard vulnerable people, and to protect people from harm.

“We have ongoing legal responsibilities to understand the performance of LFR. Testing enables us to understand more about its accuracy and how we can best prevent and detect crime.

“We are using our own internal staff and members of the public, who have agreed to take part, to best represent people of all ages and backgrounds. These people have been drawn from two sources (i) an actor’s agency and (ii) an under 18 cohort of volunteers from the Police Cadets.”

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