The Metropolitan Police today revealed it will start using ‘Big Brother’ facial recognition technology on the streets of London within the next month after eight major trials since 2016.
Scotland Yard says the cameras are a fantastic ‘crime-fighting tool’ with a 70 per cent success rate at picking up suspects – but privacy campaigners believe it is a ‘breath-taking assault on rights’.
Detectives will draw up a watchlist of up to 10,000 people suspected of the most serious crimes including murders, gun and knife crime, drug dealing and child abuse.
Then cameras will be set up in busy areas such as in the West End, at major shopping centres, near sports and music events or high crime areas, for stints of five to six hours with officers in the area poised to grab people on their databases.
Suspects will be asked to identify themselves – and arrested if they are confirmed as wanted men or women. The cameras will also be used to trace missing people and vulnerable children.
Campaign group Big Brother Watch says the decision is a ‘serious threat to civil liberties in the UK’ and claims the Met’s accuracy claims are bogus citing a recent independent report claiming the technology is only right in just one in five cases.
There were no arrests at all during a high profile 2018 test at Westfield in Stratford, one of the capital’s busiest shopping centres, and it later emerged a 14-year-old black schoolboy was fingerprinted when the system misidentified him as a suspect.
This is the Met’s new facial recognition system known as ‘NeoFace, pictured at a press conference today. It compares the faces in the police database on the right of the screen with those passing the cameras – an officer gets an alert if there is a match. If someone is not wanted their face is automatically blurred
Campaigners say the use of the technology (file image) is a step too far towards a police state – but the Met is bringing it in permanently saying it is a crucial tool in stopping crime
A man was fined £90 in Romford by officers for disorderly behaviour after he tried to cover his face last year during a trial – but the Met says the trials are over and future policing will involve using these cameras
It was only in the later of the trials it started to work and led, according to the Independent, and a report in the US released last month revealed that tests revealed the technology can struggle to identify black or Asian faces compared to while faces.
At a press conference today said it could not give journalists its budget for using the technology in 2020 – but FOIs revealed last year the force spent £200,000 on a series of trials that resulted in no suspects being held.
Met uses Japanese facial recognition technology – and insists only 1 in 1,000 innocent people are ‘pinged’
The Metropolitan Police uses facial recognition technology called NeoFace, developed by Japanese IT firm NEC, which matches faces up to a so-called watch list of offenders wanted by the police and courts for existing offences.
Cameras scan faces in its view measuring the structure of each face, creating a digital version that is searched up against the watch list. If a match is detected, an officer on the scene is alerted, who will be able to see the camera image and the watch list image, before deciding whether to stop the individual.
But the Met has insisted its trials has helped their digital method of identifying wanted criminals and its top technologist Johanna Morley said the NeoFace software first developed in Japan as ‘extremely accurate’.
And experts have also claimed that although it is trickier to identify people wearing masks, disguises or covering their faces for religious reasons such as niqab or burka veils, the cameras can still scan more than a dozen key facial points to identify.
The Met has claimed that one in 1000 innocent people generate a ‘false alert’ but privacy campaigners are unhappy about the controversial technology and the rights of people not to be filmed.
Critics have also said that signs put up to alert the public that cameras are on could alert the criminals and allow them to flee.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said: ‘This decision represents an enormous expansion of the surveillance state and a serious threat to civil liberties in the UK.
‘It flies in the face of the independent review showing the Met’s use of facial recognition was likely unlawful, risked harming public rights and was 81% inaccurate.
‘This is a breath-taking assault on our rights and we will challenge it, including by urgently considering next steps in our ongoing legal claim against the Met and the Home Secretary. This move instantly stains the new Government’s human rights record and we urge an immediate reconsideration’.
Clare Collier, advocacy director for campaign group Liberty, said it is a ‘dangerous, oppressive and completely unjustified move’.
She said: ‘Rolling out an oppressive mass surveillance tool that has been rejected by democracies and embraced by oppressive regimes is a dangerous and sinister step’.
Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jenny Jones, who sits in the House of Lords, are pursuing a crowdfunded legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police and Home Secretary over facial recognition surveillance.
But the High Court found the technology was being used lawfully in Wales last year.
Protesters have also donned masks and picketed events where the cameras were tested, including during the crunch South Wales football derby between Cardiff and Swansea this month.
Privacy campaigners have repeatedly called for the technology to be removed from Britain’s streets, and accused it of being like ‘Chinese-style surveillance’.
It was previously installed at King’s Cross station, London, before being switched off in September, and has been used by several UK police forces.
Canary Wharf was also reportedly in talks about installing the software at its site, home to major banks including Barclays, Credit Suisse and HSBC, in August last year.
Last year there was a high profile storm last year when officers fined a pedestrian in Romford £90 for disorderly behaviour after he tried to cover his face when he saw a controversial facial recognition camera on the street.
He was not wanted for any crime but did not want to be pictured, which he said was his right.
The Met has failed to arrest huge numbers of people at certain trials but say that the tool will help catch more bad guys
A No Facial Recognition banner at the stadium during the Sky Bet Championship match between Cardiff City and Swansea City
Q&A: How police will b be using facial recognition technology to catch suspects in London
Why are the police using facial recognition technology?
The Metropolitan Police hopes live facial recognition technology will help reduce crime, especially violent incidents, and could be used as a tactic to deter people from offending. They claim trialling the system in real life conditions will enable them to gather accurate data and learn as much as possible.
Are faces stored in a database?
The Metropolitan Police said it will only keep faces matching the watch list for up to 30 days – all other data is deleted immediately.
Can you refuse to be scanned?
People can refuse to be scanned without being viewed as suspicious, although the Metropolitan Police said ‘there must be additional information available to support such a view’.
How accurate is the technology?
Trials in London and Wales have had mixed results so far. Last May, the Metropolitan Police released figures showing it had identified 102 false positives – cases where someone was incorrectly matched to a photo – with only two correct matches. South Wales Police said its trial results improved after changes to the algorithm used to identify people.
But Scotland Yard, which is trying tackle record knife crime, gang violence and a high murder rate in the past year, insists it is a ‘vital tool’ to get more criminals off the streets.
Met Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave, said today: ‘Facial recognition technology will be particularly useful in helping us tackle knife and gun crime, child sexual exploitation, as well as other serious crimes, and to protect the most vulnerable people.
‘The public rightly expect us to test and to use emerging technology to tackle crime and stop violent criminals. Bearing down on serious violence is our number one priority and we believe we should explore the value of new technology to help us do that.
‘Locating people who are wanted by the police is not new. Every day police officers are briefed with images of suspects to look out for, resulting in positive identifications and arrests every day.
‘Live facial recognition is about modernising this practice through technology to improve effectiveness and bring more offenders to justice.’
The force has already used the cameras at the Notting Hill carnival and other forces have used them at football matches.
And pop star Taylor Swift used the software at a concert in the US to identify stalkers in the crowds.
The technology is widespread in China, where President Xi as embraced the technology even to monitor what people buy in pharmacies.
Civil rights groups have raised concerns over the technology, and in July last year, the data watchdog warned police forces testing the scanners that privacy and data protection issues must be addressed.
At the time, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: ‘We understand the purpose is to catch criminals but these trials also represent the widespread processing of biometric data of thousands of people as they go about their daily lives.
‘And that is a potential threat to privacy that should concern us all.’
Facial recognition technology has already been installed in the UK. The developer behind the 67-acre King’s Cross station, London (far right) previously admitted it has installed the technology, which can track tens of thousands of people every day
Canary Wharf was also in talks to install facial recognition across its 97-acre estate, which is home to major banks like Barclays, Credit Suisse and HSBC, in August last year
She has also called for a legal code of practice to be established before the technology was deployed.
But Mr Ephgrave said the Met is ‘in the business of policing by consent’ and thinks the force is effectively balancing the right to privacy with crime prevention.
EU is considering five-year ban on use of facial recognition technology in public
The European Commission is considering a five-year ban on the use of facial recognition technology in public places as regulators demand more time to establish how to stop the technology being abused.
An 18-page leaked draft paper from the Brussels-based organisation suggests outlawing the tech, meaning it can’t be used in places including sports stadiums and town centres, until new rules have been brought in to further protect privacy and data rights.
UK campaigners have repeatedly called for the technology, which identifies faces captured on CCTV and checks them against databases, to be banned.
The draft paper, obtained by news website EurActiv, also mentions plans to set up a regulator to monitor rules.
The final version is expected to be published next month, and will have to navigate through the European Parliament and be rubber-stamped by EU governments before becoming law.
Given the lengthy procedure, and expected opposition from France that wants to use the technology in CCTV and Germany that plans to use it in 14 airports and 139 train stations, it is not likely to be imposed on the UK before Brexit.
When contacted by the Telegraph about the leak, a European Commission spokesman refused to comment, but said: ‘Technology has to serve a purpose and the people. Trust and security will therefore be at the centre of the EU’s strategy.’
He said: ‘Everything we do in policing is a balance between common law powers to investigate and prevent crime, and Article eight rights to privacy.
‘It’s not just in respect of live facial recognition, it’s in respect of covert operations, stop and search, there’s any number of examples where we have to balance individuals right to privacy against our duty to prevent and deter crime.’
The force claims that the technology has a very low failure rate, with the system only creating a false alert one in every 1,000 times.
However, using a different metric, last year, research from the University of Essex said the tech only had eight correct matches out of 42, across six trials they evaluated.
The Information Commissioner’s office said the tech has ‘potentially significant privacy implications’ and called on the Government to implement a code of practice for live facial recognition.
It said in a statement: ‘The code will ensure consistency in how police forces use this technology and to improve clarity and foreseeability in its use for the public and police officers alike.
‘We believe it’s important for government to work with regulators, law enforcement, technology providers and communities to support the code.’
Police and security services worldwide are keen to use facial recognition technology to bolster their efforts to fight crime and identify suspects.
But they have been hampered by the unreliability of the software, with some trials failing to correctly identify a single person.
Eight people were arrested during a trial a year ago in Wales, which took eight hours.
But just three were a direct result of the technology.
Police insist people can decline to be scanned without arousing suspicion and the move is necessary to crack down on spiraling violence crime
A 15-year-old boy identified by the recognition cameras was arrested on suspicion of robbery but released with no further action.
A 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of false imprisonment and a 35-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of breach of a molestation order.
The five other arrests were two teenage boys accused of robbery, a 17-year-old boy accused of firing a gun and two men aged 25 and 46 for drug possession.
In a previous trial a suspect was arrested by the Metropolitan Police during a trial of the facial recognition technology among Christmas shoppers at Leicester Square in London’s West End.
Another man was stopped due to the technology, but found not to be the man the computer thought he was – although he was arrested over another offence.
Big Brother Watch has previously said the technology is a ‘breach of fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of assembly’. They have monitored the officers and say police treat those who avoid the cameras with suspicion.
But the police insist people can decline to be scanned without arousing suspicion and the move is necessary to crack down on spiralling violence crime.
A mandate they have produced to guide officers states: ‘It is right and appropriate to bring people who are unlawfully at large to justice as they may otherwise pose a threat of safety to the public through the commission of crime.
The Home Office has said the system can be an ‘invaluable tool’ in fighting crime, while the National Police Chiefs Council said it could disrupt criminals but insisted any rollout must show be effective within ‘sufficient safeguards’.
But they have been hampered by the unreliability of the software, with some trials failing to correctly identify anyone.
HOW DOES FACIAL RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY WORK?
Facial recognition software works by matching real time images to a previous photograph of a person.
Each face has approximately 80 unique nodal points across the eyes, nose, cheeks and mouth which distinguish one person from another.
A digital video camera measures the distance between various points on the human face, such as the width of the nose, depth of the eye sockets, distance between the eyes and shape of the jawline.
A different smart surveillance system (pictured) can scan 2 billion faces within seconds has been revealed in China. The system connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets. The military is working on applying a similar version of this with AI to track people across the country
This produces a unique numerical code that can then be linked with a matching code gleaned from a previous photograph.
A facial recognition system used by officials in China connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets.
Experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people.