Essex researchers concerned by new police tech

4 July 2019, 07:36 | Updated: 4 July 2019, 07:40

Met Police New Scotland Yard

The University of Essex Human Rights report has found big flaws in live facial recognition technology being tested by police in London.

The system can use cameras to scan faces in a crowd and match them up against a police watchlist.

But experts at the University say four of five people identified are innocent.

They're calling for trials of the technology to be suspended.

Across the six trials that were evaluated, there were 42 matches, and in only eight of the matches can the researchers say it made a correct match.

The report's authors, Professor Peter Fussey and Dr Daragh Murray, have called for all live trials of LFR to be ceased until the concerns are addressed.

But Duncan Ball, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said the Met was "extremely disappointed with the negative and unbalanced tone" of the research and insisted the pilot had been successful.

According to the Met's website, the force has used the technology several times since 2016, including at Notting Hill Carnival that year and the following year.

Use of the facial recognition is currently under judicial review in Wales following the technology's first ever legal challenge, brought against South Wales Police by Liberty.

Hannah Couchman, policy and campaigns officer for the civil rights group, renewed their calls for a ban on the technology after the research was published.

"This damning assessment of the Met's trial of facial recognition technology only strengthens Liberty's call for an immediate end to all police use of this deeply invasive tech in public spaces," she said.

"It would display an astonishing and deeply troubling disregard for our rights if the Met now ignored this independent report and continued to deploy this dangerous and discriminatory technology.

"We will continue to fight against police use of facial recognition which has no place on our streets."

The report's authors were granted access to the final six of 10 trials run by the Metropolitan Police, running from June last year to February 2019.

The research also highlighted concerns over criteria for the watch list as information was often not current, which saw police stopping people whose case had already been addressed.

It also found numerous operational failures and raised a number of concerns regarding "consent, public legitimacy and trust".

Dr Murray said: "This report raises significant concerns regarding the human rights law compliance of the trials.

"The legal basis for the trials was unclear and is unlikely to satisfy the 'in accordance with the law' test established by human rights law.

"It does not appear that an effective effort was made to identify human rights harms or to establish the necessity of LFR.

"Ultimately, the impression is that human rights compliance was not built into the Metropolitan Police's systems from the outset, and was not an integral part of the process."

Deputy Commissioner Ball said: "This is new technology, and we're testing it within a policing context.

"The Met's approach has developed throughout the pilot period, and the deployments have been successful in identifying wanted offenders.

"We believe the public would absolutely expect us to try innovative methods of crime fighting in order to make London safer."