The UK’s largest police force, the Metropolitan Police, says it has begun the operational use of Live Facial Recognition (LFR) across the nation’s capital – despite ongoing legal challenges around its use and concerns surrounding the technology.
The Met, which serves more than eight million people across 32 London boroughs, said deployment “will be intelligence-led and deployed to specific locations in London. This will help tackle serious crime, including serious violence, gun and knife crime, child sexual exploitation and help protect the vulnerable.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office gave its blessing to the project, saying that the force had taken into account guidance the ICO set out last year in a formal opinion [pdf] for police forces, adding mildly that it had “received assurances from the MPS that it is considering the impact of this technology and is taking steps to reduce intrusion and comply with the requirements of data protection legislation.”
The Met will be using technology from NEC, it said. The Japanese multinational boasts that its facial recognition technology is “installed in over 1,000 major systems in more than 70 countries and regions worldwide”
London Facial Recognition Roll-Out: Likely to Be Challenged
Both the ICO and the UK’s Biometrics Commissioner have pointed for urgent parliamentary legislation to govern the use of facial recognition.
As the Commissioner put it in a June 2019 report: “It is difficult to see anybody other than Parliament being the appropriate arbitrator of proportionality in respect of how the loss of privacy by citizens should be balanced against… policing power.”
The move today met with immediate condemnation from civil liberties NGO Liberty, whose advocacy director Clare Collier said: “This is a dangerous, oppressive and completely unjustified move… Facial recognition technology gives the State unprecedented power to track and monitor any one of us, destroying our privacy and our free expression. Rolling out a mass surveillance tool that has been rejected by democracies and embraced by oppressive regimes is a dangerous and sinister step.
She added: “It pushes us towards a surveillance state in which our freedom to live our lives free from State interference no longer exists.”
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement published Friday January 24: “The technology, from NEC, provides police officers with an additional tool to assist them in doing what officers have always done – to try to locate and arrest wanted people.
The force added: “This is not a case of technology taking over from traditional policing; this is a system which simply gives police officers a ‘prompt’, suggesting “that person over there may be the person you’re looking for”, it is always the decision of an officer whether or not to engage with someone.”
The Biometrics Commissioner noted last summer: “The strategic question is whether the public will retain their confidence in the police use of biometrics if the important issue of proportionality has not been decided independently, by our elected representatives, rather than the police themselves.”
The ICO said in its October opinion for police forces that it “intends to work with relevant authorities with a view to strengthening the legal framework by means of a statutory and binding code of practice issued by government.
“In the Commissioner’s view, such a code would build on the standards established in the Surveillance Camera Code (issued under the Protection of Freedoms Act (POFA 2012) and sit alongside data protection legislation, but with a clear and specific focus on law
enforcement use of LFR and other biometric technology. It should be developed to ensure that it can be applicable to current and future biometric technology.”