Anger as Met Police roll out facial recognition technology in London

Civil rights groups have hit out at the Metropolitan Police’s decision to deploy live facial recognition technology in busy London streets for a second time, calling it “dangerous” and “oppressive”.

Having first officially deployed the technology in Stratford at the start of February, the Metropolitan Police announced this second deployment at short notice on Thursday via social media, with cameras appearing outside Oxford Circus tube station within two hours of the post.

Claire Collier, Advocacy Director at civil rights group Liberty, said: “This is a dangerous, oppressive and completely unjustified move by the Met.

“Facial recognition technology gives the State unprecedented power to track and monitor any one of us, destroying our privacy and our free expression.”

Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, responded to criticism of the technology in a conference on Monday, saying that privacy concerns were “much, much smaller” than the “vital expectation to be kept safe from a knife through the chest”.

“It is for critics to justify to the victims of those crimes why police should not use tech lawfully and proportionally to catch criminals who caused the victims real harm,” said the Commissioner.

Though the Met claimed that the technology has a low margin for error, research carried out during separate trials of the technology between 2016 and 2019 found that it was inaccurate 93% of the time, wrongly identifying over 3,000 people, according to civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch.

Commenting on the deployment in Stratford earlier this month, director of Big Brother Watch Silkie Carlo claimed that the technology was: “A shocking waste of police time and public money, and a huge assault on our civil liberties”.

Though there is currently no law regulating the use of live facial recognition, the Metropolitan Police claimed in a post online that they will always notify the public when they plan to use it and clearly identify where the technology is being used.

The post also said: “Anyone can decide not to walk past the [facial recognition] system; it’s not an offence or considered ‘obstruction’ to avoid it.”

A petition launched by Liberty, calling for the total ban on live facial recognition technology, has reached over 36,000 signatures at the time of writing.

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