London's Facial Recognition Rollout Trips Over The Pandemic As Facemasks Render The System Even More Useless

from the of-course,-some-people-still-refuse-to-wear-them-so... dept

The rollout of London's facial recognition cameras -- hundreds of them -- is being held up by unexpected developments. No, it's not the efforts of legislators, privacy activists, or some sudden concern about the unreliability of the tech. It's the global pandemic, which has taken away many of the facial features the cameras are looking for. (h/t Jeffrey Nonken in the TD Chat window)

The Metropolitan Police is considering whether to pause its use of facial recognition cameras because so many Londoners are wearing face masks.

Use of the technology, which was deployed across London from January in a bid to spot serious criminals, is regarded as controversial by civil liberties campaigners.

One assembly member, Caroline Pidgeon, made the obvious point that a rollout during a pandemic necessitating face mask use isn't the best timing for tech that already has demonstrated an inability to correctly recognize unmasked faces.

This point is driven home in a letter composed by Pidgeon and Sian Berry, another assembly member. The letter says the tech's failures -- and the lack of public input or oversight -- means Londoners should only expect bad things from a large-scale rollout of live facial recognition.

In a letter published [PDF] on the London Assembly website, the two elected representatives said: "We both believe that the way in which LFR [live facial recognition] is being rolled out as an operational tool in London is ill-advised, and that this technology will have a chilling effect on civil liberties if it is not used with clarity, accountability and with full democratic consent."

The letter says the tech used by the Metropolitan Police isn't merely error-prone. It's pretty much all errors, all the time.

In a recent answer to a written question, the Mayor made clear that in the first two deployments of LFR this year more than 13,000 faces were scanned. Out of these 13,200 people scanned only six individuals were stopped. However, of those six, five were misidentified and incorrectly stopped by the police, not being wanted for any crime. Furthermore, of the total of eight people who created a ‘system alert’, seven were incorrectly identified. This is a concerning pattern of inaccuracy and misidentification of innocent people, which was also identified during the trials of this technology.

The letter also points out that London's law enforcement has refused to cooperate with the government's oversight of this tech, telling legislators to refer to previously published documents rather than directing them to anything more recent that might provide insight on the current state of the technology. The assembly members say the available documents do not fully address tests mandated by the London Policing Ethics Panel. They also note that while the Ethics Panel has suggested this tech only be used to investigate "serious crimes," the Metropolitan Police has made it clear it has no intention to comply with this guideline.

The letter asks more questions of the MPS which will likely also go unanswered. The assembly members want assurance these systems won't be deployed during protests, demonstrations, or public events. They also want to know if the forces of law and order are cool with blowing off Parliamentary directives.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has called for a halt to the police's use of live facial recognition, until relevant regulations are in place. Do you feel comfortable ignoring Parliament?

The answer to the last one is probably "yes." The Metropolitan Police has continued to deploy the tech despite a constant stream of false positives. The only thing standing between it and a full rollout is the pandemic itself. The MPS can't honestly say its system will be a useful crime fighting tool when people's faces are partially hidden from view. The MPS couldn't honestly say this prior to en masse mask-wearing, but at least the system still had access to full faces. Continuing the rollout would show the police care more about playing with their toys then ensuring the safety and well-being of London residents.

Filed Under: cameras, covid-19, face masks, facial recognition, london, metropolitan police, privacy


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  • icon
    tz1 (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 4:16am

    They should continue to wear masks

    Through the 5th of November. Guy Fawkes masks. Like in V for Vendetta.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 5:57am

      Re: They should continue to wear masks

      "Like in V for Vendetta."

      I refer to think of the real Guy Fawkes, a royalist who was attempting to destroy parliament due to his religious beliefs in an attempt to have his religion favoured by government. He's more complicated than Alan Moore's anti-Thatcherist fiction, but a reminder of what the real world looks like.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 1:14pm

        Not against authority so much as against authority not his

        It's certainly a great joke that 'guy who attempted to blow up government building because his group wasn't in charge' somehow became a symbol of protest against authority.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2020 @ 12:07pm

      Re: They should continue to wear masks

      Amazing how many hits the Metro police are having for "Hugo Weaving".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2020 @ 4:47am

    "One assembly member, Caroline Pidgeon, made the obvious point that a rollout during a pandemic necessitating face mask use isn't the best timing for tech that already has demonstrated an inability to correctly recognize unmasked faces. "

    The solution is simple,

    ZOOM
    ENHANCE
    ROTATE

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

  • icon
    MGoodson (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 5:30am

    Assembly letter : Do you feel comfortable ignoring Parliament?

    Metropolitan Police Service Reply : Pretty much, yes. What're they gonna do? Call the police on us?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 1:03pm

    How to tell who the boss is in a relationship

    The letter also points out that London's law enforcement has refused to cooperate with the government's oversight of this tech,

    They also note that while the Ethics Panel has suggested this tech only be used to investigate "serious crimes," the Metropolitan Police has made it clear it has no intention to comply with this guideline.

    When you feel safe in ignoring what the other person is saying, the other person is not the one in charge.

    Those in the government either need to bring the hammer down, hard('well if you're going to ignore us I see no reason why we should be paying you...'), or just drop the pretense of 'oversight' and admit that the metro police can do whatever the hell they want.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2020 @ 2:24pm

    But you wont stop it from happening because every single person that is in or goes to London (and anywhere else in the World, for that matter, is a ruthless terrorist, intent on making sure everyone knows exactly what arsrholes every government is and ehat all members (and their friends) are really up to!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2020 @ 11:13am

    Re: all errors, all the time

    If the error rate seems high now, wait until wait until people start wearing masks with adversarial patterns.

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


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