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Controversial facial recognition returns to scan faces in central London

Zoe Tidman
Getty

Facial recognition will return to central London less than a week after the controversial technology was last used in the capital.

Cameras will scan faces in “key locations in Westminster” to check against a list of wanted criminals from 1pm on Thursday, the Metropolitan Police tweeted two hours before the planned deployment.

The technology will likely be used over a few hours in central Westminster, a force spokesperson told The Independent.

Police have pushed forwards with plans to use live facial recognition (LFR) in London, despite concerns over the technology’s accuracy and fears it could compromise innocent people’s privacy.

Trials carried out by the Met between 2016 and 2018 wrongly identified members of the public as potential criminals 96 per cent of the time, figures have revealed.

The Met have said the final judgement call is up to the officers as to whether to act on alerts.

“LFR is an aid to human decision-making,” the force tweeted on Friday. “The officer will use their experience and judgement to decide whether or not there is reason to engage.”

Facial recognition was used in Oxford Circus last Friday, although the deployment finished early due to connectivity issues with the technology, a Met spokesperson told The Independent.

Police were met by protesters with signs to rally against facial recognition as cameras scanned faces in the busy zone of central London last week.

Following Thursday’s announcement of another deployment in central London, Silkie Carlo, from civil liberty and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “The Met has instantly showed its intentions to use live facial recognition surveillance pervasively and disproportionately.

“It’s now using the mass surveillance tool weekly and with unregulated watchlists of many thousands of people.”

The Met has been approached for comment.

The force said on Thursday the technology “helps police seek wanted people, or those who might pose a risk to themselves or others” by scanning faces in a certain area and comparing them to a police watchlist.

Police are alerted of a potential match and officers then decide whether to approach the member of the public, they explained.

London’s first official deployment of facial recognition took place in early February outside Stratford railway station in east London and resulted in no arrests, as well as no matches to wanted criminals.

Two men were detained and released with no further action by officers during the deployment in Oxford Circus last week, although neither had passed through the LFR zone, a Met spokesperson told The Independent.

Eight arrests have been made as a result of the eight trials using the technology over the course of three years.

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