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Scotland Yard to deploy facial recognition cameras to catch capital's most violent criminals

Martin Evans
Facial recognition surveillance will target criminals placed on watchlists, police chiefs said - Getty Images Europe

Live facial recognition technology is to be rolled out across London to target serious violent criminals, Scotland Yard has announced.

Cameras will regularly be positioned at designated locations around the capital to scan crowds and check against a watchlists of wanted suspects.

The decision to deploy the technology follows a High Court ruling last year that rejected a challenge from a member of the public in South Wales where trials of the controversial technology had been taking place.

Campaigners opposed to the introduction of the cameras argue that it is a breach of civil liberties for law abiding citizens.

But Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said the technology was a “fantastic crime fighting tool” that would help the Met bear down on dangerous criminals at a time when violence and homicide in the capital is at record levels.

Scotland Yard has bought three systems, from NEC, which each have two cameras, and the first deployments are expected to come within weeks.

But he said the public would be fully informed where and when the technology was being used and insisted images of innocent people would not be stored.

The cameras work by scanning the faces of people in public places and then checking them against a “bespoke” list of wanted suspects.

Officers on the ground will then get an alert that the person identified is a subject of interest.

The deployments will be intelligence led and will focus on areas of high crime, where wanted people are known to frequent.

Mr Ephgrave said: “Live facial recognition is only doing through technology what officers have been doing since policing began.

"Every morning we brief officers and show them photographs  of people wanted for serious crimes and we ask them to remember those faces and if they see them out on patrol arrest them. This technology makes that more effective.

“A police officer’s ability to scan a crowd and recognise someone is limited. Live facial recognition does not make any decisions it just alerts an officer. 

“The decision is always for the officer. It essentially tells the officer, that person there might be the person you re looking for.

“The decision always stays with the officer the Live Facial Recognition technology makes no judgment, discretion and experience.”

Mr Ephgrave said while the technology was not a “silver bullet” that would solve all violent crime it was a very useful tool.

He also said it might also be useful in helping to locate missing vulnerable people.

He said: “We all want to live and work in a city which is safe: the public rightly expect us to use widely available technology to stop criminals.

“Equally I have to be sure that we have the right safeguards and transparency in place to ensure that we protect people’s privacy and human rights. I believe our careful and considered deployment of live facial recognition strikes that balance.”

According to the Met, recent trials have indicated that if a person is on a watchlist there is a 70 per cent chance that they will be picked up by the cameras, while only one in every 1,000 cases gave a false alert.