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Face/On: London’s Met Police to use live facial recognition tech in targeted ops

The Metropolitan Police Service has announced that it will now begin using live facial recognition technology (LFR) in targeted operations across the capital.

A Met press release says that the hardware will be a standalone system and will not be linked to any existing imaging systems like bodycams, ANPR, and CCTV – although officers will draw data from ‘watch lists’ of wanted individuals, and scan crowds and passers-by, in search of any potential matches. If the technology comes up with a match, officers on the scene will then decide whether or not to make an arrest.

The Met claims that people not on the watch list will not be directly targeted, but adds that any biometric data gathered which does not result in a match will be automatically deleted.

The Service adds that targeted areas will be ‘small’, but doesn’t go into specifics. Watch lists will reportedly only be populated by persons of interests, mainly those wanted for serious and violent offences, but assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave said in a statement that the tech could be used to help locate missing children and vulnerable adults, too.

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“We are using a tried-and-tested technology, and have taken a considered and transparent approach in order to arrive at this point,” Ephgrave said.

“Similar technology is already widely used across the UK, in the private sector. Ours has been trialled by our technology teams for use in an operational policing environment. Every day, our police officers are briefed about suspects they should look out for; LFR improves the effectiveness of this tactic.

“Similarly if it can help locate missing children or vulnerable adults swiftly, and keep them from harm and exploitation, then we have a duty to deploy the technology to do this.”

The Met is at pains to point out that the technology will not be used for blanket surveillance. Whenever LFR is in use in an area, hardware will be clearly signposted and officers deployed to the operation will hand out leaflets to members of the public.

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It appears that this complies with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) definition of ‘valid consent’. Members of the public are required to be informed of and consent to the gathering of biometric data, with there being provisions for operations being carried out in the public interest.

Ephgrave is convinced that LFR operations will strike the right balance between assisting with operations while safeguarding public privacy.

The technology is supplied by NEC Group, which has also worked with South Wales Police as part of a trial of live facial recognition. Last year, the High Court ruled that use of the technology was lawful, in a case brought against South Wales Police by Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, with help from privacy campaigners Liberty.

In a statement, Liberty’s advocacy director Claire Collier said: “This is a dangerous, oppressive and completely unjustified move by the Met. 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. It pushes us towards a surveillance state in which our freedom to live our lives free from State interference no longer exists.”

Last week, a leaked European Commission document suggested that the EU plans to temporarily ban the use of live facial recognition in public spaces, until such a time that an improved legal framework for its use across the bloc is created.

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