Last minute Christmas shopping? You’re probably being spied on

If you’re in London this week for a spot of last minute Christmas shopping, police in the nation’s capital have got you the greatest gift of all: electronic mass surveillance.

Police are trialing facial recognition software in unmarked vans across Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Soho, taking advantage of the huge crowds of shoppers and tourists to put the crime-stopping technology to the test using oblivious shoppers as guinea pigs.

The test is going ahead on the 17th and 18th of December, so there’s a chance that by the time you’ve read this you’ve already been observed going about your business. The technology is being tested ‘overtly’ right now, which means there will be uniformed police officers and posters scattered around the environment. The test will run for about eight hours on each day.

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If this sounds dystopian, you’re not the only one unconvinced. Big Brother Watch is just one organisation standing against facial recognition surveillance, and a freedom of information request filed by the outfit in May revealed that not only is it invasive, but it doesn’t even work that well, with 98 percent of matches generated by the system proving inaccurate.

Worse, the same request last month about a test in Stratford this June reported back nothing but false matches, one of which led to an “intervention or stop” lending the whole thing the air of a slightly rubbish Minority Report remake.

The Metropolitan Police Service has defended the trial of the technology. The MPS’ strategic lead for the facial technology, Ivan Balhatchet has said:  “The Met is currently developing the use of live facial recognition technology and we have committed to ten trials during the coming months. We are now coming to the end of our trials when a full evaluation will be completed.

“We continue to engage with many different stakeholders, some who actively challenge our use of this technology. In order to show transparency and continue constructive debate, we have invited individuals and groups with varying views on our use of facial recognition technology to this deployment.”

It almost makes me glad to be stuck in the office in the run-up to Christmas.

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