Facial recognition technology to be used in London streets

Retail zones and shops in the UK capital are guaranteed to be bustling with consumers seeking out presents this Yuletide period.

But central London shoppers themselves may also be getting picked out by new facial recognition technology implemented by Metropolitan police.

A trial announced this week by the Met involves using cutting edge software to scan faces in the Christmas crowds. However, it will be part of an initiative to test the technology’s capabilities, rather than an attempt to push covert surveillance.

As reported by the BBC news website, the tech trial runs will be carried out near famous central London neighbourhoods, including Soho, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square over Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Privacy watchdog, Big Brother Watch, has said that the techniques on trial are “authoritarian, dangerous and lawless”. In a statement, the group said that “monitoring innocent people in public is a breach of fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and assembly”.

Police representatives have said that facial recognition could play a pivotal role in the battle to identify criminals to aid investigations or legal processes.

The news follows revelations of the methodology being employed at the Rose Bowl stadium in Los Angeles, where it’s alleged facial recognition was used at a fans’ photo booth in order to identify potential stalkers at a recent Taylor Swift pop concert.

Big Brother has maintained that the technology captures an alarming number of innocent victims and categorises them as suspects.

To allay concerns, the Met has said that the trials will conducted by clearly uniformed officers, and that the campaign would be supported by information leaflets distributed widely to keep the public fully informed throughout both days of the trial.

Any individuals not wanting to be scanned during the test period would not be deemed suspicious, the Met added.

The technology could bring “significant public safety benefits”, Elizabeth Denham said in a blog earlier this year.

The Information Commissioner also warned that the application of facial recognition technology could be “particularly intrusive”, but that it represented a “real step change in the way law-abiding people are monitored as they go about their daily lives”.

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