IF YOU'RE PARTAKING in some Christmas shopping in London this week, you may want to pack a fake moustache and glasses. Police in London are trialling some pretty invasive facial recognition software in unmarked vans in Soho, Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
Researchers at Cardiff University provided some terrifying numbers on the potential of facial recognition, stating that it has the capacity to identify as many as 18,000 faces every minute. That's an estimate that should be put to the test on one of the busiest shopping days of the year in some of the most congested part of the country. Shoppers will be guinea pigs in a police trial whether or not they're suspected of committing a crime.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the technology in question is so woefully inefficient that even the most dedicated of career criminals has very little to worry about.
Back in May, a Freedom of Information request from Big Brother Watch revealed that 98 per cent of the software's matches were inaccurate. And last month, a follow-up FoI request showed that low bar had sunk further, and was now hitting absolute zero. The Cardiff University report highlighted above also noted that the technology is weaker in crowds and low-light conditions, which sounds just perfect for winter in central London.
But it's general uselessness isn't really the point, as campaigners from Big Brother Watch have been highlighting.
"Live facial recognition is a form of mass surveillance that, if allowed to continue, will turn members of the public into walking ID cards," said Silkie Carlo, Director of the organisation.
"As with all mass surveillance tools, it is the general public who suffer more than criminals. The fact that it has been utterly useless so far shows what a terrible waste of police time and public money it is. It is well overdue that police drop this dangerous and lawless technology."
The Metropolitan Police Force defended the trial of the technology and added that members of the public would be informed of what's going on: "As with all previous deployments, the technology will be used overtly with a clear uniformed presence and information leaflets will be disseminated to the public. Posters with information about the technology will also be displayed in the area."
Campaign group Liberty thinks the reality was nowhere near that promise:
Met Police are using #FacialRecognition surveillance tech on the streets of #London today. These privacy-invading cameras snatch our deeply personal biometric data without our consent - and the van isn't even marked up. #ResistFacialRec pic.twitter.com/ZZSf1Qrbog— Liberty (@libertyhq) December 17, 2018
It looks like actually reading those signs would involve getting close enough to be scanned. The perfect honey trap for those of a curious nature. µ
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