UK Police Test Facial Recognition Tech At Carnival, Rack Up 35 Bogus 'Hits' And One Wrongful Arrest

from the in-the-land-of-the-no-eyed-cop,-the-civil-liberties-barrister-is-king dept

UK law enforcement has proudly been using facial recognition for tech for a few years now. As is the case with any new law enforcement tech advancement, it's being deployed as broadly as possible with as little oversight as agencies can get away with.

As of 2015, UK law enforcement had 18 million faces stashed away in its databases. Presumably, the database did not contain 18 million criminals and their mugshots. Concerns were raised but waved away with promises to put policies in place at some point in the future and with grandiose claims of 100% reliability. The latter, naturally, came from the police inspector who headed the facial recognition department. Caveat: this had only been tested on a limited set using "clear images."

What works well in theory and/or with limited datasets doesn't work especially well in practice. Here's how things went down when the facial recognition program was deployed in the wild.

The controversial trial of facial recognition equipment at Notting Hill Carnival resulted in roughly 35 false matches and an erroneous arrest, highlighting questions about police use of the technology.

The system only produced a single accurate match during the course of Carnival, but the individual had already been processed by the justice system and was erroneously included on the suspect database.

Yeah, that's going to keep UK citizens from being menaced by terrorists, drug dealers, and whatever else was cited to keep the facial recognition program from being derailed by concerned legislators and citizens. And, while the tech was busy failing to do its job, a few thousand photos of people engaged in nothing more than being criminally underdressed were added to the pot of randomly-drawn faces for the next round of facial recognition roulette.

Supposedly, this was a trial run. The false positives were apparently derived from a list of suspects' faces wanted on rioting-related charges. Fortunately, those who were approached by officers as the result of bogus tech tip-offs had their identification documents on them. Nothing in the law requires you to carry them wherever you go, but if the law's going to use tech as faulty as this, it may as well be a criminal offense to leave home without them. You're going to get rung up -- at least temporarily -- if you can't prove you aren't who the software says you are.

Undeterred by this resounding lack of success, the Metropolitan police are planning to test the software again. This will give another set of UK citizens the chance to be wrongfully arrested at some point in the near future. Until the bugs are worked out -- which means violating the rights and freedoms of UK citizens during the beta testing phase -- UK law enforcement facial recognition tech will still be remembered as the thing that caught that shoplifter that one time.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 5 Sep 2017 @ 12:11pm

    Eventually the software and hardware will get to better accuracy so while it's kind of funny to mock the failure, the privacy implications still remain. Ask people from last century if they were ok with being monitored wherever they go and have such data saved for as long as they live if they'd feel comfortable. I'd guess not. Why are these same people forcing such thing in the younger ones?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 1:58pm

      Re:

      "Ask people from last century if they were ok with being monitored wherever they go and have such data saved for as long as they live if they'd feel comfortable. I'd guess not."

      Like most other people, they will roll over. Most revolutions are only followed by the installation of a new tyranny. As exceptional as America was, even we are no exception to this. Sure our tyranny was less than others, but we still enslaved, murdered, and committed to atrocities when left to our devices.

      It is easy to point out how much you suck as a human while I ignore how much I suck as a human.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 1:46pm

    So basically...

    Blindly assuming the facial matches are accurate and confronting these individuals is a bit on the crazy side, isn't it?

    I guess they have no fear of being mistaken because there's no law preventing cops from harassing random people for their ID.

    If on the other hand, the cops had employed someone who had a book of faces to walk around and tell them when he spots a "bad guy" matching those faces - and he was wrong 35 times in a row... I think he'd be out of a job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 1:49pm

      Re: So basically...

      If on the other hand, the cops had employed someone who had a book of faces to walk around and tell them when he spots a "bad guy" matching those faces - and he was wrong 35 times in a row... I think he'd be out of a job.

      Clearly, you haven't read about the low standards applied to Criminal Informants who say what the cops want to hear.

      As long as the mistakes don't lead to any accountability for the police, they have no reason not to keep making them. A bit of public embarrassment that they hand-waive away as inaccurate technology isn't even close to accountability.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 4:17pm

    Screw this facial recognition database... we need a (publicly accessible) criminally undressed boobies database. That would be a much more appreciated use of public funds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 4:36pm

    That does it ... I'm order9ing my Trump mask immediately!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 10:08pm

    not a complete loss. they were awarded last month's maytag dead wringer award.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McGyver (profile), 6 Sep 2017 @ 4:06am

    Ah... It's close enough... And that's good enough.
    Besides, one gets to pretend they are on CSI Miami with the Star Trek technology instantly identifying suspects and solving crimes at the touch of a button.
    Granted one can foil this technology by wearing an eyepatch, having the mumps, or wearing a fake nose and mustache (does that count as a mask?)... The point is it's flashy new technology and it only cost taxpayer money, so it doesn't have to be perfect... Or work well... It just has to be cool.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 6 Sep 2017 @ 8:07am

    Follow the money

    Whenever you run into stupidity like this that won't go away, it's invariably because someone in the government, or a relative of theirs, owns a company that provides said stupidity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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