London police begin using live facial recognition

– Police insist technology is accurate, will help catch criminals, critics voice privacy concerns

By Karim El-Bar

LONDON (AA) – London’s Metropolitan Police began using live facial recognition technology as part of routine police operations, despite critics’ objections.

The technology was operationally deployed for the first time Tuesday at a shopping center in Stratford, east London.

A blue police van with surveillance cameras on top was parked near the center’s entrance with signs telling civilians live facial recognition was in use. Some protestors gathered to demonstrate against the use of the technology.

Police said it was “part of a proactive policing operations to focus on violent and other serious offenses.”

Live facial recognition analyses facial patterns of passers-by and cross-references the data with digital images of wanted criminals. If there is a match, police verify the identity of the suspect before an arrest is made.

The policy is controversial. Police have been moving towards implementing live facial recognition for some time, and insist 70% of offenders walking past would be caught and the false positive rate was only one in 1,000.

But an independent review cited by local media said just 19% of matches were correct.

Big Brother Watch, a privacy campaign group, said that the use of live facial recognition threatens civil liberties.

“We don't accept this. This isn't what you do in a democracy. You don't scan people's faces with cameras. This is something you do in China, not in the U.K,” said the group’s director Silkie Carlo.

“Britain has a strong tradition of upholding civil liberties and of not allowing police to arbitrarily stop and identify people. This technology just sweeps all of that away,” she said.