United Kingdom police facial-recognition tools incorrect in more than 90pc of cases

Cloud computing is one of the forces that is making the use of facial recognition technology more common

Cloud computing is one of the forces that is making the use of facial recognition technology more common

South Wales Police have admitted they keep hold of images of innocent people wrongly identified by their facial recognition cameras for a year, meaning that every innocent person wrongly identified at all these events (over 2,400 people in South Wales Police's case) has their image on a police database - and these people are completely unaware about it.

But police have defended the technology and say safeguards are in place. Potential matches are then flagged, allowing police to investigate further.

Campaigners are calling for police to stop using facial recognition software amid concerns it is 'almost entirely inaccurate'.

How have the police forces responded?

A member of staff from the human rights organisation Liberty who observed the Met Police's operation at Notting Hill Carnival previous year claimed the technology led to at least 35 false positives, five people being unduly stopped and one wrongful arrest.

Big Brother Watch (BBW), a civil rights organization from the UK that "works to roll back the surveillance state", released a report in which it reveals that the UK Metropolitan Police's experimental facial recognition system is wrong 98% of the time, thus making it virtually useless. Deputy chief constable of South Wales police, Richard Lewis said: "When we first deployed and we were learning how to use it... some of the digital images we used weren't of sufficient quality".

"If we move forward on this path, these systems will mistakenly identify innocent people as criminals or terrorists and will be used by unscrupulous governments to silence unwelcome voices". "They weren't able to get the detail from the picture". If you think this isn't worth worrying about, bear in mind that on the basis of an incorrect match the police have the power to stop you in the street and require you to identify yourself, in order to prove you aren't the person their computer tells them you are.

"On a much smaller number of occasions, officers went and spoke to the individual. realised it wasn't them, and offered them the opportunity to come and see the van".


In London, the Metropolitan Police said there had been 102 false positives, where someone was incorrectly matched to a photo, and only two that were correct. A Met police spokesperson said that all alerts on its watch list were deleted after 30 days and faces that do not generate an alert are immediately deleted. From smartphones to laptops, and even home security systems, facial recognition is now an unsaid prerequisite.

"Automated facial recognition technology is now used by United Kingdom police forces without a clear legal basis, oversight or governmental strategy", the group said.

The UK's independent biometrics commissioner, Paul Wiles, told The Independent that the technology is "not yet fit for use" judging by the figures outlined in the report.

What does Big Brother Watch want?

National police databases are brimming full of people's images - 19million at the last count - hundreds of thousands of which are of innocent people.

Dancers at a Caribbean carnival in a west London street, peaceful protestors at a lawful demonstration against an arms fair, and citizens and veterans paying their respects to war dead on Remembrance Sunday - these people have all been targeted by police's new authoritarian surveillance tool invading our public spaces: automated facial recognition.

"For the use of FRT to be legal, the police forces must have clear evidence to demonstrate that the use of FRT in public spaces is effective in resolving the problem that it aims to address, and that no less intrusive technology or methods are available to address that problem".

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