Met Police roll out controversial facial tech recognition in London

London’s Metropolitan Police will start testing its facial recognition technology in the capital today. This week’s trials mark the seventh attempt launched by the Met in a bid to get its controversial technology to take flight. The testing will take place on Monday and Tuesday of this week, over a period of eight hours each day.

Rather than scanning people without their consent, the Met is inviting people to take part in the testing on a voluntary basis. Critics of the scheme have been vocal, suggesting that people who turn down the invites will look “suspicious”.

Bigger grievances, meanwhile, pertain to issues of privacy. Big Brother Watch, a prominent civil liberties advocacy group, has denounced the technology as “authoritarian, dangerous and lawless,” stating that it constitutes a “breach of fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and assembly”.

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If you’re keen to avoid being roped into the testing period, you’ll want to avoid central London. The areas where the tests are being conducted fall within the touristic hubs of the capital, with Soho, Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square being touted as prime locations.

Be wary of pranksters, too; the Met has established that “clear uniformed” officers only would be carrying out trials, while maintaining that anyone requesting not to be scanned would not be black marked as “suspicious”.

For its part, the Met is keen to forge ahead with trials. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has sung the facial recognition system’s praises, positing in a blog post that it could bring “significant public safety benefits”. The system, if approved for use, would mean the software could be employed to identify people wanted by the police – with technology doing most of the heavy lifting.

However, previous trials have shown something of a mixed record. And that’s us being diplomatic; a trial back in July led to a grand total of 0 arrests – probably a good thing, since a May study found the software flagged false positives in up to 98% of cases.

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In the meantime, Big Brother Watch is ploughing on in its role as watchdog; it recently took to Twitter to name, shame and snap one of the facial recognition vans conducting the trials today. “This looks an awful lot like covert surveillance,” the group commented on a picture of the seemingly innocuous plain green van.

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