UK Police Carry Out Facial Scans Of 100,000 People Attending Music Festival

from the yes,-we-scan dept

Last year, Techdirt wrote about Boston Police performing a test run of its facial recognition software on those attending a local music festival. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the UK, land of a million CCTV cameras, the police have taken things even further. As this story in Noisey explains, drawing on a report on the Police Oracle site (registration required):

This weekend’s Download Festival will be subjected to strategic facial recognition technology by Leicestershire Police, making those 100,000 plus attendees the first music fans to ever be monitored to this extent at a UK music festival


The announcement article on Police Oracle reads, “the strategically placed cameras will scan faces at the Download Festival site in Donington before comparing it with a database of custody images from across Europe.”

The ostensible reason for this massive surveillance is to catch people who steal mobile phones, but that really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The database that the 100,000 faces were matched against was “custody images from across Europe”, but it seems improbable that criminals would travel all the way across Europe to this particular music festival in the hope that they might be able to relieve a few spaced-out musicgoers of their phones. Nor was general criminal behavior an issue: apparently, last year there were just 91 arrests with 120,000 people attending. It’s more likely that the facial scans were born of a desire to see if the hardware and software were capable of capturing such large numbers and comparing them with the pan-European database. Worryingly, the Download Festival may be just the start:

According to the Police Oracle article previously cited, other festival organisers have expressed widespread interest in technology, pending a successful trial. DC Kevin Walker told the Oracle, “It is one of the first times it has been trialled outside, normally it is done in a controlled environment. There has also been a lot of interest from other festivals and they are saying: ‘If it works, can we borrow it?’ “

It’s easy to see this kind of technology being rolled out ever-more widely. First at other music festivals — purely for safety reasons, you understand — and then, once people have started to get used to that, elsewhere too. Eventually, of course, it will become routine to scan everyone, everywhere, all the time, offering a perfect analog complement to the non-stop, pervasive surveillance that we now know takes place in the digital world.

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Comments on “UK Police Carry Out Facial Scans Of 100,000 People Attending Music Festival”

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OldGeezer (profile) says:

Can’t wait for all the false positives that lead to false arrests become massive lawsuits. Facial recognition isn’t like DNA where the odds sometimes exceed the entire population of the planet. It’s not even like fingerprints where mistakes are very unlikely if there are a decent number of comparison points. SWAT teams will be taking down people unlucky enough to just look like some felon. Wouldn’t the odds of a mistake be even higher for innocent relatives who bear a family resemblance? We have been worried that 1984 will become a reality. I think we are heading more toward Person of Interest.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“false positives”

That’s always my main concern too. The technology is a long way from perfect, and even if they were faces can be eerily duplicated – there’s a reason why words like doppelgänger exist. All forensic evidence is subject to being tainted and to generating false positives, but at least the actual identification of a subject is performed under laboratory conditions.

The problem with an Orwellian/Kafkaesque nightmare is that the system actively blocks you from fighting against false charges. Forget SWAT teams, merely being arrested due to a false positive would be more than enough of a problem for most – “sorry sir, the computer says you’re not you”. How do you fight that if those arresting you won’t take alternative evidence? That’s a worst case scenario, of course, but it’s a possible destination following these kinds of systems.

“We have been worried that 1984 will become a reality. I think we are heading more toward Person of Interest.”

I was thinking Brazil. Sorry, Mr Buttle, the system doesn’t make mistakes, you need to come with us…

Klaus says:

Re: Re: Re:

I know that UK Data Protection laws carry many exemptions cut out for the police, for example data holders can disclose personal information to police without necessarily being in breach of the laws, and that the police themselves are not obligated to disclose what they hold on a person to that person, but I’m really curious to know how the police themselves get away with retaining this “fuzzy” data for any length of time without being in breach of the core Data Protection principles, especially regarding accuracy.

For example:

“We think that Klaus was at the Download Festival yesterday, or possibly his younger brother was”

is a thousand miles removed from:

“Klaus phoned his mother yesterday at 19:05”.

Certainly going off their websites, the police themselves have to obey the same Data Protection laws.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“False positives”

There’s no such thing as a false positive. It’s been widely demonstrated that everyone commits some kind of crime, every day. Once you divorce searching for YOU from a specific crime they’re trying to solve, it’s one tiny step from just rounding up people at random. And once you’re in custody, they have to justify WHY.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Because this is the UK, where the “royality” and every “upper class” person is above the law. Remember that child prostitution cult thing from a few months ago which involved a lot of politicians and someone from the royal family? Media got quiet very quickly about it. One day of big reporting then suddenly nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

was probably done to take the UK one step further away from the freedom and privacy it has been renowned for!

wait and see if i aint right! all these measures are being done to make it easier for the police to go after ordinary people who just get so pissed off with what the government is doing, just as happened in the ‘London Riots’ a few years ago. it is so easy to tab on to people who dont normally do anything wrong. on top of that, businesses are going again for global take over and have never been closer to doing so than now!

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If the government puts all people in jail, then the only customers left for companies would be governments and other companies. There are only a bit over 200 governments in the world, how many companies would it take to service them, especially if all the people are in jail (prison services might be an exception here)? Then there is the problem of who is going to pay taxes if all the people are in jail? For that matter, if everyone is in jail, who’s gonna run the companies, or the government for that matter. Won’t the government want somebody to rule over? It seems there is a problem in this cycle, and the government hasn’t realized it as yet. I cringe at thinking about what hamfisted measures they are going to take when they do.

GEMont (profile) says:

Popular Myths

And finally, when the Sherriff says to “Cut’em off at the pass.” it really can do it, because he has access to a data base of everyone’s daily travel routes, daily living habits, daily routines both in and out of the home, and every person known to each and every human being alive, at his finger-tips.

But of course such a data base will never be exploited for blackmail, or to destroy an adversary’s/enemy’s reputation or business, and no criminal, or criminal organization could ever breach the incredibly safe security protecting such a data base, for other nefarious purposes.

Honest Injun!

By the way. See that Bridge over there.
Its mine.
Due to a financial drop in my other business, I’m forced to sell it dirt cheap.
A Toll Booth will earn you as much as 3 million a year.

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