Police ethics watchdog approves wider use of controversial facial recognition technology following trials in Romford

PUBLISHED: 12:27 29 May 2019 | UPDATED: 07:31 30 May 2019

The London Policing Ethics Panel has concluded that it approves the Met's use of live facial recognition technology subject to various conditions. Picture: Met Police

The London Policing Ethics Panel has concluded that it approves the Met's use of live facial recognition technology subject to various conditions. Picture: Met Police

Met Police

The use of live facial recognition technology by police has been approved with conditions by the London Policing Ethics Panel after it was trialled in Romford town centre.

Since 2016 the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) carried out 10 trials of Live Facial Recognition (LFR) technology with the most recent trial taking place in Romford amid much public debate around the issue in mid-February.

The MPS trial process has now come to an end and the London Policing Ethics Panel published a report today (Wednesday, May 29) which concludes that further use of the technology would be supported providing the following conditions are met:

1. The overall benefits to public safety must be great enough to outweigh any potential public distrust in the technology.

2. It can be evidenced that using the technology will not generate gender or racial bias in policing operations.

The facial recognition technology which was used by police in Romford February 2019. Photo: @bbw1984The facial recognition technology which was used by police in Romford February 2019. Photo: @bbw1984

3. Each deployment must be assessed and authorised to ensure that it is both necessary and proportionate for a specific policing purpose.

4. Operators are trained to understand the risks associated with use of the software and understand they are accountable.

5. Both the MPS and the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime develop strict guidelines to ensure that deployments balance the benefits of this technology with the potential intrusion on the public.

Det Ch Sup Ivan Balhatchet, who has led the MPS's LFR trials, said: "We welcome the report published by the Ethics Panel which took evidence from a sample of Londoners and highlights important views on the use of this technology.

Posters in Romford town centre. Photo: Met PolicePosters in Romford town centre. Photo: Met Police

"We are pleased to see that more than half of those who completed the survey felt that the use of LFR is acceptable and would make them feel safer at an event where the technology was deployed.

"However we fully accept that views vary amongst different community groups and some have concerns regarding their privacy."

He continued: "Overall the report makes recommendations on additional conditions the MPS may wish to adopt to ensure that any future deployments are proportionate and necessary.

"We want the public to have trust and confidence in the way we operate as a police service and we take the report's findings seriously.

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"The MPS will carefully consider the contents of the report before coming to any decision on the future use of this technology."

Eight people were arrested during the Met's deployment of the LFR on January 31, three of which were as a direct result of the use of the technology, while five arrests were made as part of a wider operation.

After the technology was trialled again on Thursday, February 14, a man was fined £90 after he covered his face using his jumper.

The Met confirmed to the Recorder that the man - who officers claimed was acting suspiciously - was stopped by police, and that after being stopped they said he "became aggressive and made threats towards officers."

He was then issued with a penalty notice for disorder as a result.

Speaking about the arrest, Silkie Carlo, director of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "He just pulled his jumper up over the bottom of his face, put his head down and walked past where the camera was.

"Lots of people would make an objection about being filmed.

"After that he was stopped by officers and he told them 'This is England, I don't want to be filmed.'

"We spoke to lots of people who objected to being filmed, and they came from all walks of life."

The Big Brother Watch's Face Off campaign opposes the use of facial recognition technology on the basis that it poses a threat to privacy and freedom of expression and that there is a risk of discriminatory impact.

Human rights group Liberty, is also campaigning against the use of facial recognition technology.

Megan Goulding, lawyer at Liberty, said: "Facial recognition is an inherently intrusive technology that breaches our privacy rights.

"It risks fundamentally altering our public spaces, forcing us to monitor where we go and who with, seriously undermining our freedom of expression. Today's report rightly recognises a number of these concerns.

"It is now for police and parliamentarians to face up to the facts: facial recognition represents an inherent risk to our rights, and has no place on our streets."

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