Facial recognition technology is "dangerously inaccurate"

The Information Commissioner is threatening to take legal action over the police's use of facial recognition technology

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Big Brother Watch's campaign, calling on United Kingdom public authorities to immediately stop using automated facial recognition software with surveillance cameras, is backed by David Lammy MP and 15 rights and race equality groups including Article 19, Football Supporters Federation, Index on Censorship, Liberty, Netpol, Police Action Lawyers Group, the Race Equality Foundation, and Runnymede Trust.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the issue had become a "priority" for her office.

Big Brother Watch said South Wales Police had stored pictures from both false positive and true positive matches for 12 months, potentially meaning images of more than 2,000 innocent people were stored by the force without the subjects' knowledge.

"Some stores in the North Island use a system which includes facial recognition technology".

Any potential matches are flagged for a police officer to investigate further.

I witnessed the Metropolitan Police use automated facial recognition at Notting Hill Carnival a year ago, and while watching for only five minutes I saw the system wrongly identify two innocent women walking down the street as men on the police's "watch-list".

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The product used by both police forces is called "NeoFace Watch", made by Japanese firm NEC.

South Wales Police has defended its use of facial recognition software and says the system has improved with time. Deputy chief constable of South Wales police, Richard Lewis said: "When we first deployed and we were learning how to use it... some of the digital images we used weren't of sufficient quality".

For instance, a developer of a content filtering AI system may claim that they are able to identify a high percentage of terrorist content on the web, but only when they already know that the content they're analyzing is terrorist content.

"If we move forward on this path, these systems will mistakenly identify innocent people as criminals or terrorists and will be used by unscrupulous governments to silence unwelcome voices".

"At no time was anybody arrested wrongly, nobody's liberty was taken away from them". "Faces in the video stream that do not generate an alert are deleted immediately".

New data protection rules are about to come into force in the United Kingdom, requiring organizations to assess the risks of new technologies, particularly when biometric data is involved, and also to provide a data protection impact assessment to Denham's office in some circumstances.

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Police forces have used parts of this database to deploy facial recognition to police crowds at major events.

What does Big Brother Watch want?

The majority of the people whose faces were scanned automatically were also not notified that the police system has "matched" them as targets.

Big Brother Watch said it planned to bring its report to Parliament and demand that police stop using automated facial recognition, citing potential violations of the Human Rights Act 1998.

"For the use of FRT to be legal, the police forces must have clear evidence to demonstrate that the use of FRT in public spaces is effective in resolving the problem that it aims to address, and that no less intrusive technology or methods are available to address that problem".

"Should my concerns not be addressed I will consider what legal action is needed to ensure the right protections are in place for the public", said Ms Denham.

The UK home office told the BBC it plans to publish its biometric strategy in June.

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"When trialling facial recognition technologies, forces must show regard to relevant policies, including the Surveillance Camera Code of Practices and the Information Commissioner's guide", it said in a statement.

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