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London's Met Police begins using live facial recognition, raising privacy and bias concerns

Image credit: Liberty

Today, the Metropolitan Police of London announced (via TechCrunch) that it has begun operational use of Live Facial Recognition (LFR) in certain areas of London. The goal is for the surveillance system to make it easier for police to locate wanted criminals and potential suspects, though it's always up to officers whether to engage with someone or not.

Initially, the facial recognition system will be deployed in areas where data suggests offenders are more likely to be found, with each deployment having a "watch list" made up of wanted individuals, specifically those responsible for serious offenses.

The decision to move forward with this kind of surveillance system hasn't been all that well-received by the public, especially human rights organizations. Liberty, an organization based in the UK, is firmly opposing the deployment of the technology, and has even started a petition urging the public to resist its implementation. As of the time of writing, over 22,000 people have signed the petition.

The main concern is, naturally, that the system violates everyone's privacy by identifying anyone on the cameras at any given moment. The organization also believes that the technology is discriminatory against people of color and women, automating bias against those people. In a tweet, Liberty also said that an independent review of the technology had concluded that the Met Police hadn't considered the impact it would have on human rights.

Commenting on the deployment, Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave expressed his belief that the technology is being deployed in a balanced way that protects human rights:

“I have to be sure that we have the right safeguards and transparency in place to ensure that we protect people’s privacy and human rights. I believe our careful and considered deployment of live facial recognition strikes that balance.”

The use of facial recognition technology for the purposes of surveillance has been the topic of debate in other places, with San Francisco moving on to impose a ban on it last year. In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union also urged Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology to the police. It remains to be seen if public resistance is enough for the Met Police to backtrack on its plans.

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