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Met Police will not reconsider use of facial recognition technology despite U-turn in US

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Britain’s biggest police force will not reconsider its use of live facial recognition despite tech giants Amazon and Microsoft restricting sale of the software to the US police amid concerns over the controversial technology’s accuracy.

London’s Metropolitan Police Force has been using LFR signposted cameras on the streets of the capital since January in a bid to find wanted criminals more efficiently, despite repeated warnings from civil rights groups that the technology is not fit for purpose.

Microsoft and Amazon confirmed they would no longer sell their technologies to police in the US last week, in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests highlighting the mistreatment of people of Bame people at the hands of police.

Both companies’ software has been criticised over their inability to recognise people with darker skin, particularly women, contributing to fears the technology could fuel racial profiling and surveillance.

Similar concerns have been raised over the Met’s software, which compares the faces of passers-by to a database of wanted persons, over both its potential to reinforce racial bias and its overall efficacy.

Freedom of Information requests from rights group Big Brother Watch published in May last year found the force’s software had incorrectly identified members of the public in 96 per cent of matches in trials between 2016 and 2018, while a study from the University of Essex commissioned by the Met to observe six out of 10 test deployments of the software found it had been wrong in 81 per cent of cases.

In one incident, a 14-year-old black student in school uniform was stopped and fingerprinted after being misidentified, left “visibly distressed and clearly intimidated” by his treatment by officers.

Former Lib Dem councillor Ed Bridges led a legal challenge to the technology in collaboration with human rights group Liberty in May last year, claiming South Wales Police’s use of FR breached the public’s right to privacy and both equality and data protection laws.

Cardiff high court ruled that the usage was legal and proportionate last September, with Lord Justice Haddon-Cave noting that it had been consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act and the data protection legislation. Mr Bridges’ appeal is due to be heard in the Court of Appeal later this month.

The Met said its technology was used to detect violent offenders and that new laws were not required for its use in the UK, unlike in the US.

“The UK and the US’ legal systems are different. The UK legal system already has strict protections to protect personal data and safeguard human rights,” a Met spokesperson told i.

“The UK’s legal system for facial recognition has been considered by the courts in the Bridges case. That found the legal basis in the UK ‘amply sufficient’ and said that Parliament did not need to pass new laws in order for the police to use facial recognition technology.

“When the Met uses LFR it does so legally to help keep Londoners safe and primarily target violent and other serious offenders.”

Gracie Bradley, Liberty’s policy and campaigns manager said that Amazon, Microsoft and IBM, which announced it was formally ending its FR operations last week, were demonstrating how seriously they were taking that such services are “discriminatory and violates human rights – it’s time the Met did the same.”

UK ‘out of step with the rest of the democratic world’

“The Met’s facial recognition trials focused on areas where lots of black people and other people of colour live, and included Notting Hill Carnival, showing that like stop and search, Tasers and other police tools, it’s another way to entrench discriminatory police practices,” she said.

“The Met’s own review of its facial recognition trials found it was likely to be found unlawful, but the force pressed ahead anyway. We’re back in court next week to continue the Bridges case, saying the use of this tech is discriminatory and violates all our rights. The world is waking up to the dangers of facial recognition. It should be banned.”

Silkie Carlo, director of rights group Big Brother Watch, said the Met’s own research found its software disproportionately misidentified women, adding that use of LFR leads to “an environment of over-policing that encourages an increased amount of stop and search of young, black men”.

“If the Met was serious about tackling racism and discrimination they’d take on board the concerns of groups like ours and the race equality groups that have backed our calls asking them to pause, let alone ban, it for years,” she said.

“The police should be listening to the court of public opinion. Internationally we can see there’s a groundswell of outrage and concern about FR, and I think the UK is now out of step with the rest of the democratic world.”

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