Facial recognition

Facial recognition technology used on Oxford Street

Police have been using live facial recognition technology in the form of van-mounted cameras near Oxford Circus this morning.

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The surveillance has been criticised by civil liberties and privacy campaigners since its roll-out was announced last month.

A photograph of a dark blue van, next to a sign reading "Police live facial recognition in use", taken near Oxford Circus was later posted on Twitter by UK civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, who described the identity checks as "alarming".

People scanned by the cameras are checked against "watchlists" of suspects wanted by police and the courts and approached by officers if there is a match.

The Met claims that the technology has a very low failure rate but research from the University of Essex said the tech only achieved eight correct matches out of 42 across six trials it evaluated.

Facial Recognition

Facial Recognition: Who's watching you?
File on 4 has been tracking the roll-out of facial recognition tech across Britain’s streets, shopping centres and football grounds.
The Metropolitan Police has announced it will use live facial recognition cameras operationally for the first time on London streets. The force sees the technology as a vital tool in the fight against crime. But privacy campaigners say it's a 'serious threat to civil liberties.'

The pace is frenetic – new computer systems can watch thousands of people at once, with the most powerful able to operate at distances of over a mile.
They can do all of this in “real-time”, meaning everyone who passes by the camera can be scanned against a “watchlist” of suspects.

But technology like this means more and more innocent people are affected. Yet the public are not always explicitly warned, and neither are the regulators. 

File on 4 has been given new details of a trial at Meadowhall shopping centre in South Yorkshire in which police and retailers worked together to scan millions of shoppers, looking out for three suspects and a missing person (the latter was found as a result).
It was one of several trials conducted by police and private companies, which went ahead despite requests from the Surveillance Camera Commissioner for police to ask him before implementing such schemes.

The legislation surrounding facial recognition is new and mostly untested, leading to calls for stricter, more specific laws to be passed.

Meantime, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner has called for a regime of inspections of the technology for both public and private bodies; a call backed by the veteran Conservative MP David Davis.

Facial recognition may be new, but it still begs an urgent answer to an age-old question: who watches the watchers?

Reporter: Geoff White
Producer: Helen Clifton
Editor: Carl Johnston