Live facial recognition (LFR) technology will be rolled out across specific locations across London, the Metropolitan Police Service has announced.
This will be the first time these cameras will be operational on the streets of the UK capital. The rollout comes after pilots were conducted in London and South Wales.
The news comes as the European Union considers implementing a temporary ban on facial recognition in public places. Civil rights campaigners have long raised concerns about the privacy implications of this type of surveillance spreading in the UK.
In a statement, the Met Police said the use of facial recognition will be deployed to various “specific” locations in London to “help tackle serious crime, including serious violence, gun and knife crime, child sexual exploitation and help protect the vulnerable.”
The technology will help police officers “to try to locate and arrest wanted people,” the statement continued. “This is not a case of technology taking over from traditional policing; this is a system which simply gives police officers a ‘prompt’, suggesting ‘that person over there may be the person you’re looking for,’ it is always the decision of an officer whether or not to engage with someone.”
The specific locations mentioned above have been selected based on “where intelligence suggests we are most likely to locate serious offenders,” per the Met police statement. “Each deployment will have a bespoke ‘watch list,’ made up of images of wanted individuals, predominantly those wanted for serious and violent offences.”
Cameras will be focused on targeted areas to scan pedestrians. Affected areas will have signposts warning about the cameras and officers will also hand out leaflets about the surveillance. LFR will act as a standalone system and won’t be linked to CCTV, body worn video or ANPR.
LIVE FACIAL RECOGNITION | We are using the latest technology to tackle crime and keep Londoners safe.
Live Facial Recognition will assist us locate and identify those wanted by police for violent offences and serious crimes.
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) January 24, 2020
Last year, the House of Commons science and technology committee urged authorities to stop trials of facial recognition until a legal framework had been put in place. Mashable reached out to the committee for comment on the most recent news. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has previously expressed concerns over the legality of using facial recognition at a site in King’s Cross, London.
The Met Police’s Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave, said he believed the police “have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London.”
“Independent research has shown that the public support us in this regard,” he added. “Prior to deployment we will be engaging with our partners and communities at a local level.
“We are using a tried-and-tested technology, and have taken a considered and transparent approach in order to arrive at this point. Similar technology is already widely used across the UK, in the private sector. Ours has been trialled by our technology teams for use in an operational policing environment.”
The UK’s data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), conducted an investigation into how police use LFR in Oct. 2019. They found that there was “public support for police use of LFR but also that there needed to be improvement in how police authorised and deployed the technology” in order to address privacy concerns and retain public trust. In a statement, the ICO said the Met Police has incorporated its advice into its planning and prep for LFR use.
That said, the ICO called on the government to bring into force a legal code to LFR. “This is an important new technology with potentially significant privacy implications for UK citizens,” read the ICO statement. “We reiterate our call for Government to introduce a statutory and binding code of practice for LFR as a matter of priority.”
Having a code of practice will “ensure consistency” in how police use LFR. “We believe it’s important for government to work with regulators, law enforcement, technology providers and communities to support the code,” the statement said.